Dirty work to reap rewards

11 Aug, 2004 10:00 PM

CAROLINE Bath has embarked upon a very glamorous yet vital crusade.

The Murdoch University PhD student has been involved in a three year project looking at the causes of scouring and diarrhoea in sheep in the South West.

The study has focused on interactions between nutrition and scouring in adult sheep and has included farm studies which looked more at the reasons for adult sheep scouring when there were no significant numbers of worms present.

Over the past two years Ms Bath has investigated seven mobs of sheep where in most cases the suspected cause of scouring was larval hypersensitivity, which occurs when sheep ingest small numbers of larvae from the gut.

In some sheep the immune system can over-react and cause damage to the lining of the intestine which is a similar condition to an allergic reaction such as asthma or hay fever in humans.

There is no specific test for hypersensitivity scouring but Ms Bath is examining samples of the gut of affected sheep to determine whether there is a difference in the numbers of cells associated with allergic reactions in the gut lining.

Another important aspect of the testing is also to determine other causes of scouring such as large worm burdens, trace element deficiencies and bacterial and viral infections.

An area which has also provided a very relevant grounding for the study is the economic cost of scouring and dag ridden sheep to the Australian producer.

The last study addressing this issue was conducted in 1995 and the findings have estimated that the costs, depending on the severity of the dag, ranged from $0.18 to $1.45 per sheep.

These costs were attributed to labour costs such as crutching and the reduced value of the wool removed but did not include the cost of extra chemicals and losses due to blow fly strike.

Problems also occur at carcass level as there can be faecal contamination which increases costs and reduces the value of the carcass which ultimately can cause concern to public health and have implications for export markets.

Ms Bathís project is important to the industry because she is helping to clarify causes of scouring in sheep to reduce the risk of developing diarrhoea and dags.

"As part of the project I am looking for mobs of sheep that are scouring so I can study the role of hypersensitivity reactions and diet," she said.

"As scouring is a particular problem in the winter and spring months, she is currently on a quest for mobs which are 12 months of age and at least 20pc of the sheep are scouring."

Another prerequisite would also be that the sheep have a low faecal worm egg count which can be done at no cost to the producer closer to time of testing.

There is an opportunity for farmers with scouring mobs of sheep to be involved in the project and they can contact Caroline Bath on 0418 953 173 or 9360 2235.



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