Farmers and vets are to engage with a new 'checklist-based' audit tool from MSD Animal Health to help improve flock health on GB sheep farms.

The new tool aims to help vets in practice engage more proactively and closely with GB sheep farmers. The highly practical consultation platform enables development of an action plan to help shepherds address the key areas influencing flock health and productivity, including nutrition.

The checklist will help practitioners assess performance across the three crucial time periods and two key management processes impacting on the success of sheep enterprises – the breeding period and early pregnancy; late pregnancy and lambing; growth, weaning and sale; disease and biosecurity; and monitoring flock performance.

It requires working through a series of 10 questions to allow vets and farmers to quickly pinpoint any areas needing attention. The farmer and flock health adviser can discuss the results and create an action plan to address the key areas influencing flock health and productivity.

Recording and data collection may not be perfect yet, but even basic data can provide valuable information. “We have developed this new performance checklist drawing on specialist sheep vet working experiences, clinical research studies, economic data and industry recommendations,” explained Dr Kat Baxter-Smith, veterinary adviser with MSD Animal Health.

“For example, the pre-breeding period is a great time to make sure your ewes and rams are as fit and healthy as possible. Good practice and preparation in this area will go a long way to minimising stress and problems during a busy lambing period.

“Having pre-agreed protocols for this important period in the sheep farming calendar – and keeping a record of issues that arise – will go a long way to making sure subsequent lambing seasons go as smoothly as possible.”

Growth, weaning and sale is the third crucial time period and the Flock Health Checklist incorporates an additional series of audit-based questions designed to pinpoint system strengths and weaknesses.

“It is vital that your lambs grow as quickly as possible – but not at the expense of the ewe. Looking after your breeding ewes during lactation and after weaning is just as important as monitoring the weight gain and performance of your lambs during this period of intense growth,” added Dr Baxter-Smith.

The Flock Health Checklist also enables a vet to ask a series of questions covering two key management processes: disease management and biosecurity; and how flock performance is currently monitored.

“Similar types of checklist have been available to dairy youngstock rearing units and beef suckler herds for a couple of years now, with several vets reporting that these tools have proved integral to their productivity improvement work with farmer clients.

"Use of this checklist-based approach is also helping better implementation of preventative health practices such as vaccination. We hope this latest tool will help the GB sheep industry similarly,” she added.

Farmers interested in further information should contact their local veterinary practice.