While summer rain in Victoria and southern NSW delivered some relief to livestock producers, the unseasonal falls have also raised animal health and nutrition concerns.
Flies and some parasites thrive in warm, wet weather, while the quality of pastures will likely be impacted by the rainfall and late season growth.
Agriculture Victoria has reported sheep deaths from the Barber’s pole worm in the State’s south-west after high rainfall and high temperatures at the end of last year.
Agriculture Victoria senior veterinary officer Paul Beltz said the stomach parasite thrived in moist conditions where it could build up very quickly and result in the death of affected animals.
“Female Barber’s pole worms lay large numbers of eggs, so a rapid population explosion is likely when weather conditions favour it, such as those that we are experiencing now,” Dr Beltz said.
“In some instances, the first sign may be sheep dying…fortunately, in Victoria most drenches should control the disease.”
Agrivet Consulting’s Graham Lean, Hamilton, said flystrike had become quite prevalent, as well as reports of Barber’s pole, while not huge, were certainly around.
“As a result of the rain, late January is a good time to do a Worm Egg Count, as it will give you a good indication of the total pick up of parasites. If you do it too early you might miss them, and too late they would have translated into clinical signs,” he said.
“WEC are usually pretty high with Barber’s pole, much higher than your usual winter worms, checking a flock is definitely worthwhile, and winter worms will need monitoring with a summer worm egg count as well.”
Fly activity was evident with producers reporting strike even on sheep that had been recently shorn or those that had been jetted with Cyronazine in December.
“Don’t assume the sheep are right just because they have been jetted, it can wash off in heavy rain. Applications wouldn’t have all failed but there have been reports of it, and they will need to be retreated because of the fly activity around,” Mr Lean said said.
“There are a lot of flies around already, when they are usually in low levels at the moment because of the dry season.
“December rain was good jumping off point for high fly rates in Summer – you only need 5mm of rain on a sheep’s back, 17 plus degrees Celsius and relatively calm conditions and you will get flystrike.”
As well as monitoring for worms and flies, keeping an eye on feed quality and the condition score of both sheep and cattle would be paramount as producers waited for an autumn break.
He said supplementary feeding over the remainder of summer and into the autumn would be high, even in the regions that had experienced a good season due to the December rain impacted pasture quality.
“If people still had green feed the rain might have been helpful, but those that had dried off in parts of the state, the impact of that rain on feed quality is going to be particularly negative and they should test the pasture to know the quality,” he said.
“I’ve seen a feed test done between Christmas and New Year come back with very poor pasture quality, which means sheep can be losing one-third of a condition score a month, and the pasture is only going to get worse so weight loss will increase.
“By the time you get to autumn they will definitely be going to need supplementary feeding.
“Even those that grew more feed from the rain in December won’t have the quality in summer feed that it has in normal years – sheep and cattle will lose weight fast.
“There are also reports of low-quality grain around which is worth being careful so make sure you feed test before you buy.”