‘Completely invaluable,’ is how Angus sheep producer Luisa Laird describes the proactive flock health input she has received from her vet over the last seven years.

Luisa entered sheep farming back in 2014, buying in just 10 ewes initially to kickstart a low input livestock enterprise she could run alongside the Laird family’s 1200-acre Burnside Farm, Memus near Forfar, and a more substantial farming enterprise in Northern Poland.

“I was pretty clueless at the start and relied heavily on advice from our farming neighbour Duncan Beaton, which was very kind – but I’m not sure I’d still be in sheep without the focus we now have on preventative flock health,” she says.

Luisa relies heavily on advice from vet Ed Hill from the Thrums Veterinary Group and now runs just under 1000 EasyCare ewes on the Burnside Farm grassland acres. The arable ground on the unit is dedicated to growing soft fruit, cereals and fodder crops.

“I call the ewes ‘Luisa-friendly’ because they require minimal shepherding, do not need shearing and yet still deliver good lambing rates and meat yields. The flock lambs outside in April – seldom needing assistance – and the ewes are very milky and able to rear their lambs without human intervention. I don’t even have a dog, so they are ideal for me when I have so many other commitments on and off the farm,” says Luisa.

Apart from buying in the odd ram, the flock is now closed – another significant disease prevention step as it helps minimise the risk of bringing in any new disease problems. “We finish all the male lambs and keep the ewe lambs as replacements.”

Luisa readily admits being on a steep learning curve since the first sheep arrived on the farm, but the key lesson has been to try and prevent disease issues rather than have to firefight problems when they inevitably hit.

“One year we had a bad outbreak of toxoplasmosis, so now vaccinate all the female replacements. We also make sure all ewes and lambs are fully vaccinated against clostridial disease and pasteurellosis.

“With Ed’s help, I’ve also had a major focus on lameness over the last couple of years and now you’d be hard-pressed to spot a lame animal anywhere on the farm. But that wasn’t always the case,” Luisa says.

Luisa estimates that at its worst, probably about 3-5% of the flock were lame – so she was keen to stamp out the problem.

“Nobody likes to see lame sheep and with limited labour available, you certainly don’t want to be constantly foot bathing, catching any animals off their feet, inspecting them and then treating any diagnosed infectious footrot cases with antibiotics. Far better to take as many steps as you can to prevent any lameness issues in the first place,” says Luisa.

Consequently, Ed Hill advised implementing the Five-Point Plan for reducing sheep lameness, which involved vaccinating the ewes against footrot and culling any animals that had needed two or more treatments. Any rams that are bought-in are also quarantined for five to six weeks to make sure they don’t introduce any new infections.

“We vaccinated the whole flock and now boost them annually, making sure the ewe lamb replacements get their primary course pre-tupping in November. Vaccination has made a massive difference and has virtually eliminated the need for any treatment intervention and reduced my use of antibiotics, which I’m really pleased about,” says Luisa.

Whilst Luisa is extremely thankful to her sheep farming neighbours for the help she has received over the years to establish her EasyCare flock, she is quick to advise anyone thinking of getting into sheep to invest in a knowledgeable and enthusiastic vet.

“I’ve learnt so much about biosecurity and effective disease prevention practices from Ed and his colleagues at Thrums. They have an active flock health club too, which enables everyone to share ideas and best practice approaches. It’s the sort of open approach the sheep industry needs to move forwards,” she says.