CUMBRIAN sheep farmers are being advised to vaccinate ewes to protect flocks from damaging ‘abortion storms’ and an increased barren percentage which can dramatically reduce flock productivity.

Outbreaks of toxoplasmosis and enzootic abortions occur on farms every year, hitting finances and landing farmers with weeks of stress. Together, toxoplasmosis and enzootic abortion account for 70 per cent of sheep abortions in the UK.

Paragon farm vet Rhys Hopkins said: “Enzo and toxo are very common. So far this year we have diagnosed eight farms in north Cumbria with one or other, or both.We see farmers going through abortion storms or sometimes finding lots of ewes didn’t get in lamb. Last year, one client had 20 or 30 ewes abort, and we easily see flocks where 20 percent of ewes can abort.”

There are effective vaccines against both conditions. But farmers should act soon as ewes must be vaccinated a minimum of four weeks before going to the tup, Rhys said.

Paragon Veterinary Group is promoting FlockCheck, a scheme run by MSD Animal Health, which offers farmers free tests on eight blood samples to detect whether either toxo or enzo are present in their flocks.Vaccination costs are around £7 per ewe Rhys said. “That is a very good investment compared with the cost of keeping a ewe for the winter only for her to abort her lambs so you get no return.”

Paul Coates, of Barrock End Farm, Armathwaite, now vaccinates all his replacement ewes after experiencing an abortion outbreak three years ago. He runs a mixed farm which includes beef, arable and 1,200 lambing ewes. He buys in 150 to 200 replacements every year. “It isn’t a cheap process, but in the long term the benefits outweigh the cost — basically you can’t afford not to.”