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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Rare sheep conditions brings industry together

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A combination of rare conditions have tormented sheep farmers Hamish, Annabel, Alastair and Sue Craw on their Banks Peninsula farm, Longridge Agriculture Ltd, for the past 10 years.

Since 2004, the Craws have been dealing with a range of animal health issues that have yet to be explained. To start with, their sheep were wasting away with an extreme case of wearing teeth. In 2013 an extremely rare calcium deficiency was causing their lambs’ legs to fracture, and in 2015 milk fever issues also arose in their ewes.

Alastair Craw says in the beginning the situation was having a significant economic impact on the business, with the more productive animals faring the worst.

We battled for a number of years to get to grips with what the wasting and starvation was about.

These rare conditions have brought together industry specialists to try and solve the problem:

  • Richard Bishop, Veterinarian.
  • Dr Anne Ridler, Massey University Senior Lecturer - Sheep & Beef Cattle Health & Production.
  • Dr Keren Dittmer, Massey University Veterinary Pathologist.
  • Julie Wagner, Veterinarian, Ravensdown Product Manager - Animal Health.
  • Rangi Holland, Ravensdown Agri Manager.

“There were a variety of complex issues going on that needed to be addressed and warranted further investigation,” says Julie Wagner.

“Because the fractured bone condition is so rare and the teeth wear is a major economic issue in New Zealand, Ravensdown decided to fund some of the research to help the Craw family and see if we could discover something useful for the national issue of teeth wearing.”

Richard Bishop from Vet Life in Little River says they’re using three points of monitoring (blood testing) at pre weaning, mid lactation and weaning to analyse the results and identify any patterns or anomalies.

“We’ve been monitoring the ewes and lambs in different groups, on improved pasture and native improved pasture. We’re reviewing that information and applying it to any conditions to see if it is relevant.”

Julie adds, “We’re working as a team to monitor the situation and share information to provide an outcome for the sheep industry. It’s the beginning of an investigation that might take several years.”

Hamish Craw says the situation has been extremely challenging.

“At the start you blame yourself, wondering what you’ve done wrong or what you’ve mucked up. It can really knock your confidence.”

He says if the teeth wear gets worse then it may impact more on productivity in the future, but he’s finding it easier to handle with the industry support behind him.

“Even with all this research we’re still not sure what is causing our sheep to have all these problems on this property. But the backing of the scientists and the industry is making it a lot easier for us to cope with. It’s good to know at least that it’s not a result of anything we’re doing wrong.”

Finding the solution is very important, not just for us, but for all New Zealand sheep farmers who experience teeth wear and other health problems in their stock that impact on animal wellbeing and productivity.