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Advice to drought stricken sheep farmers


Media Release from Intervet

February 15, 2008


Don’t risk turning a bad year into a disastrous one - advice to sheep farmers on managing through the drought

Look after your investment in stock; don’t gamble with long-term production and your financial future.

Destocking and cutting costs are decisions many farmers are being forced to make to deal with short-term issues such as drought and depressed lamb prices, but Intervet New Zealand Technical Manager Dr Robert Dempster is urging farmers to keep their eye on the long-term, and to plan now with that vision in mind before acting.

Dr Dempster is advocating farm management strategies which minimise the impact of poor returns, while looking after existing stock with an eye to production next year.  Minimising wastage is even more important when returns are low, and Dr Dempster believes vaccination should be seen as an investment towards future production as opposed to a cost, given the losses due to disease could be dire.


The cost of a sheep abortion storm for instance, will far outweigh the investment in vaccination, with a substantial negative impact on future farm returns.  Dr Dempster pointed out abortion storms and lamb losses caused by diseases such as Toxoplasma and Campylobacter can have a devastating effect on farm incomes. In a tight financial year, a storm with 30 percent of ewes aborting could mean the difference between a bad year and a disastrous one.

By not investing in animal production this year, farmers are laying odds against a rebound in lamb prices, despite strong international economic indicators that prices will increase in 2009.   “A good lambing this spring is going to be crucial to get stock on the ground and build numbers again; lambs are likely to be in strong demand, so foresight is required,” Dr Dempster said.

World demand for protein is increasing strongly, with many economists predicting increases in lamb prices.  A restriction of lamb supply in New Zealand over the coming year can also be expected to lead to higher lamb prices, as has recently been seen in Australia.  

Vaccination is an important form of income protection insurance.

The risk of abortions caused by Toxoplasma and Campylobacter remains very high. In a recent national study 460 flocks were blood tested for both these diseases. It was found that 80 percent of mixed age ewes are exposed to Toxoplasma, and not one property was clear of the disease. Not only that, the study also found that half of mixed age ewes had been exposed to Campylobacter, with this disease present on 80% of farms.

With Toxovax vaccine being a one-shot-for-life vaccine the actual cost per year in the life of the ewe is actually very low. Often this is not considered when weighing up the pros and cons of purchasing the vaccine in the first place.









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