‘Once you see the signs of coccidiosis the damage has been done’

Once farmers begin to see the signs of a coccidiosis outbreak the damage has already been done, Elanco’s Niall Jackson has said.

The Elanco Veterinary Practitioner spoke at a recent Gain Feeds sheep information evening where he said coccidiosis is a parasite and it affects ruminant animals across the globe.

“Coccidiosis is essentially everywhere, whether it is a feedlot, indoor or outdoor situation you are going to have coccidia on the farm.”

Jackson told the 100 farmers in attendance that outbreaks are commonly found when feed and water troughs become contaminated with faeces, while problems also occur with unhygienic bedding and the build up of dirt and moisture.

But even well-managed systems, depending on the pressures that are there, can get issues with coccidiosis as well.

“Unfortunately lambs and calves can pick it up when they are sucking their mother as it can be on the skin of the dam and it is inevitable that they will get it.

“It is just about managing the challenge by putting in a preventative approach rather than a reactive approach.

“Once we see the clinical signs, we need to appreciate that the damage has already been done,” he said.

Why is coccidiosis such a problem?

Clinical coccidiosis, he said, leads to a pronounced dark black scour, ill-thrift, anorexia and the possibility of anal prolapse.

“They may be shedding parts of the the intestine and generally it is not very pleasant.

“Once they get to this stage the game is generally up and treatment is next to useless because there is chronic long-term damage done.”

Animals that suffer from clinical coccidiosis tend to become screws for the rest of their lives, he said, and it is quite hard to get them finished.

In lambs, he said, it tends to develop at around four-to-eight weeks of age and it tends to occur as the immunity protection they received from the first feed of colostrum begins decrease.

“If you have clinical disease you definitely have sub-clinical disease to a greater extent and you are going to suffer production losses as a result.”

Sub-clinical Coccidiosis

He described the sub-clinical cases as the “submerged bit of the iceberg” or the vast majority of cases.

“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean its not there,” he said.

But he stressed to the farmers in attendance that all scours are not as of a result of coccidiosis.

“Just because you see an animal scouring doesn’t mean it is as a result of coccidiosis, there are plenty of other reasons for young animals to be scouring,” he said.

A balancing act with Coccidiosis

Jackson added that like all infectious diseases it is all a bit of a balancing act between the animals own immunity and the environment.

“It is a balance between hygiene, climate, the relative of eggs in the environment and the stocking density.”

He added that fecal samples are important for the identification of the parasite, but he said the presence of eggs may not be a sign of clinical coccidiosis as it depends whether or not the species of coccidiosis is pathogenic or not.

He advised farmers to make sure that there lambing pens are clean and dry and to use clean pasture for young lambs if possible.

He also encouraged farmers to try and raise feed and water troughs to try and prevent ewes and lambs from dunging into them.

“Keeping looking at your feed and water troughs, if you think they are getting very dirty maybe look at raising them to try and prevent that from happening.

“They are going to pick coccidia up anyway but you don’t want to make it easier for that happen,” he said.