Item for Living the Lifestyle feature

October and November are the months of plenty on the farm, or should be. If you haven’t got enough grass for your animals now, then you have too many stock for the area, and you should sell/eat/rehome some of them. As the weather warms up it is a good time to apply fertilizer to the ground, as the grass is growing rapidly and can utilise it well. Consult your vet, stock and station agent or fertilizer rep about what sort of fertilizer to use. Best of all is to get a soil test done to see exactly what your soil is needing. If you have enough ground, then this time of year is when you can close up about one quarter of your paddocks to allow the grass to grow for hay, although on many small farms hay needs to be bought in, rather than made. The aim now is to conserve or purchase, some grass (as hay or baleage) from this time of exuberant grass growth, to have on hand for the colder winter months when your animals’ requirements exceed the grass supply. This is what farming is all about – balancing the grass growth against your animals’ food requirements.

If your animals have produced young, then the young will now be out and about eating the grass, and along with the grass they will also be eating some parasite eggs. Most adult animals have reached an agreement with their parasites. They will tolerate a few to allow the parasites to reproduce and continue their species, but their immune system will kill off most of them, allowing the animal to remain healthy. Young animals do not have such a strong immune system, and the parasites can make them poorly, especially if a large number of young animals are kept on a small area of ground. The most common parasites to cause trouble are intestinal worms, lungworms, coccidia, and lice. The adult animals pass out a few worm eggs in their dung. The young animals pick up a few parasite eggs when grazing, and because their immunity has not yet developed to the parasites, the worms develop and pass out many worm eggs onto the pasture, where the young animals reinfest themselves. Symptoms of worm infestation include diarrhea, coughing, and poor growth rate (the worms are using up much of the food that the young is eating, leaving it little to use for growth).

We have three strategies to use for controlling parasites, and best results come from using all three combined. This is the holistic and sustainable approach. The first strategy is worm drenches. These are drugs that kill the parasites, allowing the young animals to get a head start against them. Nature is cleverer than that however, and many internal parasites and some lice, are now resistant to the drugs that we have to kill them. Please consult your vet about drench use. Every situation is different, and tailored advice is required. If you wish to use organic methods and not use drenches, then it is even more critical to get advice on worm control. Animals with lots of worms suffer, and it is not an option to do nothing about this. In almost all cases, young animals will need a worm treatment at about 6 weeks old, at weaning, and again in the warm autumn months. The second strategy is pasture control. If you keep only one species, then all your paddocks will have parasites affecting that species. If you graze sheep on the same paddocks year after year, then the level of sheep parasites on the ground will build up, requiring more and more drench to control, and eventually leading to worms that are resistant to drench. If you graze cattle and sheep, then the cattle will eat the sheep parasite eggs but not be infested by them, and the sheep will eat the cow parasite eggs and not be infested by them. The total contamination of the pasture will be much less, and the quality of the pasture will be better too, as the sheep and cattle prefer different grass types and have different grazing patterns. You can’t just bung the sheep and cattle in together though! Cattle need longer grass to eat, so they can graze a paddock first, followed by the sheep, followed by a rest phase for the grass to regrow. Cattle and horses, sheep and horses, and goats and horses/cattle work well this way. Sheep and goats have much the same parasites and so can’t be used to clean up after each other. If you want to graze sheep and normally graze cattle, check your fences – the sheep may leave through any small gaps!!

The third strategy is land use. If you plough up the grass and plant maize, or other crop food, or allow a pig to plough up the soil, the parasite eggs have nothing to infest, and the life cycle is broken. This is the principle on which our (perhaps wiser) forbears operated, leaving one field out of four fallow each year to replenish itself. Making a crop of hay off a paddock will greatly reduce the level of parasite eggs on it. On many small farms these land uses are not options, but if you keep the number of animals on your farm lower, rather than higher, you will reduce the parasite contamination of your land. Happy, well fed animals of all ages will have better parasite immunity than underfed, crowded and stressed ones.

It is very easy to check the worm level in your animals. Collect some fresh dung from one to ten animals (they need to be the same sort, eg all lambs, or all calves) in the same container and take it to your vet for a worm count. The same sample can be used to check for coccidia as well (see next paragraph). This costs around $20 and is well worth while.

Coccidia are a problem for poultry, lambs, calves and piglets especially. In warm damp environments eg sheds, a few coccidia picked up by browsing, rapidly multiply in the bowel and are excreted, to be picked up again in much larger numbers. These large numbers cause scours, usually with some blood. Coccidiostats are usually incorporated into chicken and calf pellets, and can be fed to lambs and kids also. Make sure that dogs and horses cannot eat any leftovers, as the coccidiostats are poisonous to these non ruminant species.

The other task most important for October/November is shearing sheep. As the warmer weather approaches (we hope!), flies begin to be active, and sheep with long smelly wool are very attractive to them. Fly strike occurs when fly eggs are laid in the wet wool; the maggots hatch and begin to literally eat the sheep alive. I can hardly think of a worse death. Get your sheep shorn. Sheep need to be dry to be shorn, and also penned up off grass for a few hours beforehand. Sheep full of grass will not bend while being shorn, leading to stressed sheep and cranky shearers! After shearing the sheep need good feed and good shelter, as they accustom themselves to the loss of their winter woollies.

A sheep affected with fly strike will initially be bothered by flies hanging around it, and will rub at a patch of dirty grey/brown stained wool. It will seek shade, and in later stages will sit or stand by itself. You should have taken action before this stage!! If you clip off the dirty wool you will find the maggots at skin level. Clip off all the wool around the area, back to clean dry wool, and apply ivomec drench direct to the skin, rubbing it in to the maggoty area, or use neguvon powder, or use a hair dryer on cool setting to dry out the maggots. Unless the affected patch is very small, a dose of penicillin is usually required. Remember to record all usage of drugs on each animal. Get your sheep shorn, and avoid this cruel condition. At the time of shearing, a lice and fly repellant product can be applied to sheep to reduce the chance of further flystrike. Cypercare is an easy to use pour on product. Vetrazin is a good spray on product. Again, consult your vet as to what will be best in your situation.

There is no alternative to daily inspection of your animals. This way you will notice the sheep with early fly strike, or the cow with mastitis, or the calf not eating properly. Many diseases, if noted in the early stages, can be treated successfully, while if left until the animal cannot stand, are fatal.

Parasites and fly strike are predictable hazards. Some things cannot be predicted!! The photo shows our cow in front of an enormous gum tree that fell last week. Mercifully it did not fall on us, the cow, the hayshed, powerlines……..