Sheep management: Nematodirus and lameness issues arising on farms

Speaking to farmers over the last week, they have said that they have come across a couple of flock health issues, particularly with their lambs.

The main issues that seem to be arising are that both ewes and lambs are showing signs of lameness, as well as a couple of lambs scouring.

These are problems that need to be identified and treated quickly before they spread like wildfire on the farm.

At this stage of the season, the last thing farmers want to see is a dip in performance from their lambs. The majority of the hard work was done at lambing time, so to be seeing lambs drop off now would be hugely disappointing.


The Department of Agriculture issued its Nematodirus forecast last month, which gave farmers an idea when they should dose their lambs for the parasite.

At the minute, some farms across the country are still in a high-risk period, so if steps haven’t been taken to dose lambs, then they should be now.

Lambs that are between six and 12 weeks-of-age are most at risk. Infection is characterised by diarrhoea, dehydration and weight loss.

If possible, farmers should try and keep lambs on clean pasture, or let them graze ahead of the ewes, so that they have access to fresh, clean grass.

To treat for Nematodirus, farmers should dose lambs with a white drench (Benzimidazoles).

If lambs show severe signs of diarrhoea and seem to be ‘straining’, then this could be a case of coccidial infection.

Sometimes Nematodirus and coccidiosis can be mistaken for one another. Rotation of pasture and frequent movement of feeding troughs and watering points to drier areas will help prevent coccidiosis in young lambs, as poaching creates moist conditions suitable for the spread of this parasite.

If it comes to a stage where lambs need to be treated, then it is best to contact your vet, especially if lambs have been given an anthelmintic treatment (dosed with a wormer) and aren’t showing any signs of improvement.

Lameness issues

Problems with sheep becoming lame are unfortunately too common. This time of the year, scald becomes an issue in flocks. It is the first stage of footrot, so it needs to be identified and controlled as soon as possible in order to prevent an outbreak.

Scald is associated with a reddening in the hoof, which is caused by a bacterial infection.

Farmers have also said that they have had issues with ewes becoming lame as well. So, if it’s a case that there are a number of cases of lame sheep on the farm, then it is best to run the flock through a footbath.

If farmers intend to make up a footbath solution, it should consist of either 1kg of zinc sulphate or copper sulphate and mixed with 10L water.

It is important to let the sheep stand in the solution for a minimum of three minutes. Afterwards, they should be turned out to a clean concrete surface, where they should be left for a minimum of 30 minutes.

If it’s a case that there are only one or two cases of lameness in the flock, then a suitable foot spray may suffice. It is best to talk to your vet, who may be able to administer an antibiotic spray to treat for it.