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Pop group to beat bearings

Vets and farmers in Hawkes Bay and Southland are working together to find solutions to the expensive problem of sheep bearings.

Led by Central Hawkes Bay veterinarian Richard Hilson, the POP (Preventing Ovine Prolapse) Group has 28,000 ewes under close scrutiny. Seventy farms in Hawkes Bay and 73 farms in Southland are taking part in the two year project to find answers to bearings (prolapsed vaginas), which are estimated to cost sheep farmers $30 million a year. The $360,000 trial is funded equally by Agmardt, WoolPro and Meat New Zealand.

Sheep usually suffer from bearings about two weeks before lambing. They often die or lose their lambs. Dr Hilson says while some farms have no problems with bearings, some may have up to 10 per cent of ewes affected. The average is from two to three per cent. Each of the farms has 200 mixed age ewes in the study. These have been tagged, and are weighed and condition scored four times a year.

Other tests and measurements are also taken, including blood and urine samples.

The intensive monitoring work includes pasture assessment and an evaluation of each farm’s physical characteristics. Farmers in the trial have been asked to be patient, as only a few results will be available next year.

“Instead of having a theory about bearings and working through it, we turned the research around to monitor everything that happens to these ewes.

“At the end we will look back at the farms which had bearing problems, and those that had none, and look at the important risk factors,” Dr Hilson says.

Several factors are likely to involved, he says.

“If there was a single cause of bearings we wouldn’t be doing the trial.”

The group is also finding out a great deal of production information while doing the study, including the importance of feeding ewes well to keep them in good condition.

There are many light ewes in the North Island this year, as a result of high worm burdens, Dr Hilson says.

“There’s a lot more science in sheep farming than we are using at present.”

[ends]

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