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Don’t balls up your flock with brucellosis

Ovine Brucellosis is a huge cost to the sheep industry and can be devastating for the individuals who contract it in their flocks. The greatest impediment to eliminating, or greatly reducing its negative impact is simple COMPLACENCY. Don’t fall into that trap and take unnecessary risks with your future and those of your neighbours. Ask yourself, “Is my flock free?”

 By Dr Patrick Kluver, Livestock Biosecurity NetworkArticle_Brucellosis_Photo 1

A survey carried out by Primary Industries Research South Australia in 2010 found that in the high rainfall area of SA’s south east around 22% of commercial flocks were infected with ovine brucellosis (OB).

If that wasn’t shocking enough, all the affected producers were blissfully unaware that their flocks were infected.

Ovine Brucellosis, caused by Brucella ovis, is a bacterial disease of sheep that causes infertility in rams and an increase of abortion in ewes and lamb mortalities – it is a costly problem you definitely don’t want to have.

While it is absolutely imperative to always buy rams from OB accredited flocks, this good practice will amount to nothing if you‘ve already have the disease.

So first things first: examine all flock rams every year.Article_Brucellosis_Photo 3

Testicles especially should be palpated for tone and lumps. Brucellosis causes lumps usually in the lower part of the testicle and they are often asymmetrical – that is, one testicle will have a distinct lump when compared to its partner, although sometimes both sides are affected and some rams infected with Brucellosis will appear perfectly normal.
The key is to get used to what feels normal so that you can pick up anything unusual and if there is any suspicion, ask a vet to do a blood test to rule out brucellosis.

Producers often make up for the reduced fertility by extending the joining period when they observe rams still working after six weeks. Other tell-tale signs include lethargy in rams, lower conception rates in ewes, extended lambing periods and reduced marking percentages.

Second, prevent OB from entering your property: OB is spread through strays, buying in rams from non-accredited flocks, borrowing rams or buying rams at clearance sales.

There is definitely a higher prevalence of OB in British breed rams compared with Merinos, but all breeds should be considered infected unless proven otherwise.

Ram buyers should examine all rams before purchase and if anything has unusual conformation of the testicles it should be rejected.

A ram is an expensive life support system for a pair of testicles – if the testicles aren’t any good then there is no point in buying the expensive animal that goes along with them.
Buyers should also insist on a National Sheep Health Statement (SHS) from the vendor to confirm that the ram in question is from an OB accredited flock.  The SHS also has valuable information on lice, footrot and OJD.

Once you return home, ensure that new stock are quarantined for an appropriate length of time after arriving on your property.

  • Alternatively, further information about Ovine Brucellosis and the Ovine Brucellosis Accreditation scheme can be obtained from your local Department of Agriculture.

Victoria – www.dpi.vic.gov.au or call 136 186 (local call charge)

New South Wales –  www.dpi.nsw.gov.au or call 1800 808 095

South Australia – www.pir.sa.gov.au or call (08) 8207 7959

Queensland ­– www.dpi.qld.gov.au or call 132 523 (Qld residents) or (07) 6404 6999

Tasmania – www.dpiw.tas.gov.au or call 1800 368 550

Western Australia – www.agric.wa.gov.au or call (08) 9368 3333