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2020 Virtual Farmers Journal Dairy Day

This year, the Farmers Journal #DairyDay will be held virtually on Tuesday the 24th of November. The virtual event is divided into three different sessions which can be viewed for free at here

2020 Dairy Day

As we move into the winter months, it’s a great time to reassess the herds winter vaccination plans prior to calving next spring. MSD Animal Health advise that a month pre-calving is a good time to give a booster shot of Bovilis IBR Marker Live.

The Bovilis IBR Marker Live 12-month vaccine protocol. Consult with your vet to access if this protocol is suitable for your herd.

Also, the time for scour vaccination is soon approaching. Remember, vaccinate cows & heifers 12 to 3 weeks prior to calving to provide passive protection to calves through colostrum feeding against three common causes of scour. For more information on winter vaccination, talk to your vet.

See some of our product and disease brochures below. If you have any questions, please contact your local vet to discuss in more detail.

Footrot vaccination a big success on Roscommon sheep farm

Vaccination as part of the strategy to control footrot has meant ewes with more milk, better lamb thrive and more lambs sold for Roscommon farmer Joseph Kennedy.

On the advice of his veterinary practitioner, Donal Flynn of All Creatures Veterinary Clinic, Joseph introduced vaccination as part of a strategic footrot control plan five years ago.

“I had a serious lameness problem. The labour and time involved in treating lame sheep was very high. Fertility in affected sheep wasn’t what it should be and I had regular problems with ewes with twin lamb disease,” said Joseph.

There has been a big reduction in lameness and the use of antibiotics to treat lame sheep. Overall, there has been a massive improvement in sheep productivity.

Joseph runs a flock of 80 ewes and 25 replacement ewe lambs at Weakfield, Co. Roscommon.

The commercial flock of Rouge/Texel crosses has scanned at an average of 2.2 in recent years. He is also a pure-bred Rouge breeder and there is strong local and regional demand for his rams.


Joseph is participating in a national information and awareness campaign run by XLVets on the benefits of vaccination as part of a strategic plan to control footrot. The campaign is run in association with MSD Animal Health, manufacturers of the only vaccine licensed for the control of footrot.

Michael Keaveney, who farms at nearby Athleague, visited Joseph Kennedy’s farm with veterinary practitioner Donal Flynn to hear Joseph’s story on the benefits of vaccination.

Michael farms in partnership with his father Liam in the village of Roundforth. They have a flock of just over 200 ewes. Ewe lambs are reared on the farm and those not needed for replacements are sold as ewe hoggets for breeding.

Persistent problem

In common with a large number of sheep farmers, the Keaveneys have a big problem with lameness.

“We footbath regularly and we treat all serious cases with an injectable antibiotic and an antibiotic spray. But the problem is still persisting.

“We still have up to 10% of our sheep lame at any one time. Lamb thrive is not what it should be and the time and labour involved in treating lame sheep is huge,” said Michael.

Joseph Kennedy outlined his footrot control strategy including vaccination when the ewes are housed. While he got a response in the first year after vaccination, he said he could definitely see a big response after the second year.

The body condition of the ewes and the excellent lamb performance on the Kennedy farm were aspects that particularly impressed Michael Keaveney.

Last year, Joseph Kennedy had twin lambs fit for sale at 12-13 weeks of age and the small number of singles were fit at 10 weeks, evidence of the excellent performance achieved.


Michael is now having a discussion with Donal Flynn on the benefits of vaccination as part of the footrot control strategy.

According to Donal, vaccination as part of a rigid control strategy will be cost effective.

“As well as lifting productivity and greatly reducing labour, vaccination also helps to reduce antibiotic use, a very important consideration in the current climate of concern about over- use of antibiotics.”

Footrot and scald the major causes

According to Donal Flynn, footrot and scald account for 90% of lameness in sheep. CODD (Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis) accounts for 5% and the remaining 5% is the result of other causes, including strawberry foot, shelly hoof and abscesses.

“The first step in tackling lameness is to correctly identify the cause of the problem. Misdiagnosis and wrong treatment can often make the problem worse.

“It will pay to get your vet to carry out a detailed inspection, identify the bugs and prescribe the most effective treatment and control strategy,” he stressed.

He said footrot which is caused by two different bacteria is highly infectious. Housing, collection yards, gateways, wet areas and supplementary feeding areas are heavy sources of infection.

Every time a lame sheep takes a step a deposit of the bacteria is left behind and other sheep are at risk of infection. Sheep do not acquire immunity to infection.


“A productive sheep flock should have a scanning rate of 2.0, a weaning rate of 1.75, a target liveweight gain in lambs of 300g/day and ewe mortality of less than 2%.

“Lameness plays havoc with these key performance indicators. It depresses fertility, leads to higher incidence of twin lamb disease and results in ewes with poor colostrum and lower milk yield.

“The end result is lower lamb performance and the risk of increased ewe and lamb mortality not to mention the heavy financial and labour costs of treating infected sheep.”

Five Point Footrot Control Plan

Donal Flynn said that farmers who have adopted the following five point footrot control plan have achieved good success in greatly reducing lameness and improving overall sheep health and performance.

“But it requires a change of mindset on the part of farmers and a 100% commitment to all aspects of the plan if good success in controlling lameness is to be achieved.”

  1. Treat All clinical cases should be treated promptly and effectively, including the use of an injectable antibiotic as well as a localised antibiotic spray. Paring of hooves should be kept to the absolute minimum. It can delay recovery and can even make the problem worse.
  2. Quarantine – All lame sheep should be isolated from the flock and treated accordingly. Keep bought-in sheep separate for at least 21 days.
  3. Avoid Spread – Regular and proper footbathing helps to reduce the spread of the disease. Spreading lime at gateways and around feed troughs can also be helpful.
  4. Cull – Some sheep are chronic carriers and will not respond to treatment. They are a continuing source of infection and should be culled. Donal recommends a two strike policy – if the sheep fails to respond to two treatments, cull it.
  5. Vaccinate – Donal stated that where footrot is affecting 5% of the flock, vaccination of the entire flock, in conjunction with the other four measures, is highly cost effective.

The best time to vaccinate is around a month before the start of the breeding season or before sheep are housed for the winter. Do not vaccinate within four weeks before and after lambing or within at least six weeks prior to shearing.”

“The primary vaccination course consists of two injections six weeks apart. In areas of constant disease challenge, re-vaccination should take place every six months.”

Virtual Tour: Is Your Shed Ready For Housing?

See below, a virtual tour of a Teagasc shed. On the tour, we draw your attention to different areas which ensure optimal living conditions for the animals.

Bedding & Animal Space

When housing cattle, it is important to allow enough space for each animal to feed, drink and rest stress free. Animals of various sizes will have different space requirements. Always ensure that there is adequate bedding of clean, dry straw available during the housing period. Sheds should be bedded regularly to keep moisture levels low. To check, kneel in bedding for approximately 1 minute. If your knees are wet, the shed needs to be freshly bedded. The objective of bedding is to keep the animal clean and dry. Space requirement varies depending on shed type and the animal type. A suckler cow on straw will typically need 4 to 5 m2 of bedding space and weanlings on slats will need between 2 to 2.5 m2. For further information accommodation requirements see figure 1.

Figure 1: Winter accommodation for beef animals

Feed Space

When housing cattle this autumn, it is important that all bedding from the previous year has been removed and the shed has been thoroughly cleaned. All areas of the shed including the feeding area should be power washed and adequately disinfected from the previous year. Feed space requirements depend on the feed availability. A general rule of thumb is to ensure each animal can feed at the same time. Typically, a suckler cow requires a feed space of 600 mm with space for two cows to pass behind. Diagonal barriers have the advantage of less bullying and reduce the amount of feed taken into the pen. Allow for the bottom rail when deciding the height of the stub wall. The animal’s neck should not normally come in contact with the top rail with diagonal feed barriers. See figure 2 below for further animal space requirements.

Figure 2: Winter accommodation for beef animals


The objective of shed design is to ensure adequate air flow on a still day and to shelter animals on a day of high wind speeds. While this is possible for newly built sheds, older sheds may not be able to provide this function and rely on the stack effect. The stack effect is where the heat generated by animals in the building rises and is replaced by fresh air coming in at a lower level of the shed (above the wall, under the eaves or through the side sheeting/boarding). See figure 3 which illustrates this process.

Figure 3
Ventilation Calculations – Inlets and Outlets

The rate of ventilation is influenced by the size of the openings, the roof pitch and the difference between inlets and outlets. As a general rule of thumb, the inlet should be at least twice the size of the outlet. When designing a new building or improving an old one, it is important to calculate the area of outlet required in a roof to allow heat and moisture from the livestock to escape by natural convection. If making improvements to shed ventilation, inlet and outlet areas should be at least brought up to the sizes outlined in the DAFM specification S101. When considering inlet sheeting/boarding it is important to look at the function of each option. In certain situations either due to the layout or situation of a farm building, natural ventilation might be inadequate. In this instance, mechanical ventilation could be considered. You should consult with your agricultural consultant for the best advice on which sheeting/boarding to use which will depend on the prevailing wind direction, type of animal and number of animals to be housed in the shed.

  • Ensure the outlet area is clean and clear.
  • General required outlet sizes can be seen in figure 4. These figures can be modified based on stocking densities and roof pitch.
Figure 4
  • Inlets should be provided beneath eaves using either a continuous opening, louvered sheeting, plastic mesh, or space boarding.
  • The inlet area should be at twice the size of the outlet area to create a natural air flow.

Water Access

Clean water access is a primary requirement of all animal housing and must be available at all times. It is important that the location and height of the trough can accommodate all animals in that shed. Water is frequently spilt around water feeders. Ensure that the area around the feeder is well drained and any spilt water can drain away from the bedding area. Avoid placing feeders in areas where spilt water will pool creating flooded areas of the shed. Aim to give access to 10% of the group to drink at any one time. Animal water intake depends on the age and stage of lactation. See figure 5 for more detail

Figure 5

For further information regarding sheds modifications talk to you vet, your agricultural consultant or visit the Teagasc webpage through the link here.


  1. Ryan, T. & Lenehan, JJ. 2016 – Winter accommodation for beef animals Teagasc beef manual
  2. Anon 2013. – Calf house ventilation – The basics MSD Animal Health

Suckler farmer adopts vaccination option under BEEP-S

Suckler farmer Dara Walton has chosen vaccination as an optional measure under the Beef Environmental Efficiency Programme-Sucklers (BEEP-S)

Dara Walton is well known in the beef farming community and indeed wider circles as one of the top performing beef herds in the country. He runs a herd of 60 spring-calving cows at Cappagh, Callan.  The farm straddles the Kilkenny-Tipperary border.  All progeny are reared to beef.

Dara Walton stands among his top performing beef herd located in Callen, Kilkenny

As part of the BEEP-S and to enhance the health of his stock, all weanlings are given their primary shot of Bovilis® Bovipast RSP around six weeks before they are housed. They get the booster shot four weeks later, along with a single shot of Bovilis IBR Marker Live.  They are housed for the winter two weeks later.

Bovilis® Bovipast RSP contains IRP technology and provides broad protection against bacterial pneumonia caused by the bacteria Mannheimia (Pasteurella) haemolytica as well as the two main viruses, RSV (Bovine Respiratory Syncytial virus) and PI3 virus (Parainfluenza 3 virus).  It is given under the skin.

As well as getting an additional BEEP-S payment of €30/calf, vaccination gives him the security and peace of mind of knowing that his valuable weanlings are protected against the major pneumonia threats.

Dara graduated from UCD with a degree in agricultural science in 2005.  He combined farming with an off-farm job for the first 11 years after graduation. Since he started farming full-time, he has expanded the suckler herd from 50 to 60 cows.

The cows are mainly Limousin and Simmental cross with a bit Parthenaise.  All replacements are home-bred and the aim is to have a breeding herd of three-quarters Limousin.  Breeding is currently 60% AI with a stock Limousin and Charolais bull.

Dairy calf to beef

He has also developed and expanded a dairy calf to beef enterprise.  This year he reared 60 calves, 40 Friesian bulls and 20 Angus and Hereford heifers. They were bought from his brother Pat, who runs a dairy farm next door. They were reared in three batches, starting in early February.

With around 250 animals to be managed and fed, he is facing into a busy winter.  This year has also been a little busier on the home front for Dara and his wife Muireann, a public health nurse. Their daughter Eloise was born 13 months ago.

His parents Tommy and Patricia live in the family home beside the farmyard. A sprightly 89-year old, Tommy still plays an active and helpful role.

Herd IBR vaccination programme in place

Dara Walton operates a whole herd IBR (Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis) vaccination programme for the past number of years.

All calves were vaccinated intramuscularly with Bovilis® IBR Marker Live about four weeks before they are housed. Now, they are vaccinated approximately two weeks prior to housing at the same time the booster shot of Bovipast RSP is administered.

All breeding stock are given an annual booster shot of Bovilis® IBR Marker Live prior to housing.

The recent granting of a 12-months immunity license for Bovilis® IBR Marker Live greatly simplifies the IBR vaccination programme for farmers like Dara.

IBR is a highly infectious disease and almost three-quarters of all suckler and dairy herds are known to be positive to the IBR virus.

He started putting jackets on the calves last year and finds them a great benefit in health and performance.  He also shaves the backs and tails of every animal at housing.  He finds it a big help in avoiding respiratory problems.

Top performance from excellent grass management

Excellent grass and top class grass management are the hallmarks of Dara Walton’s beef production system.

He won the Zurich/Farming Independent Beef Farmer of the Year award in 2019, in recognition of his skills and performance across all aspects of beef production.

The entire farm has been reseeded over the past 12 years and the results are visible in leafy grazing paddocks with plenty of clover.  He is faming 42ha of owned and 12 ha of rented land, which is used for two cuts of silage and grazing at the shoulders.

His target is to average 1kg/day gain from grass across all animals over the grazing season.  This year the continental yearlings gained 1.5kg/day from March to July and the Friesian steers averaged 1.2kg. 

While gains have gone back a bit since July, he is confident he will exceed the kilo/day target.  Performance is continually monitored through regular weighing.

Creep grazing

Calves are forward creep grazed ahead of the cows to ensure they get the most nutritious grass and achieve top performance. 

When bull beef became “a recipe for losing money” he went back to steer beef three years ago.  Steers are finished at 21-24 months and heifers at around 20 months.

Most of the finishing cattle are now housed and are getting around 7kg of concentrate. Finished heifers will be sold in about a month and he hopes to have most of the steers gone by Christmas.


Dara regards excellent quality silage as vital to the economics of his system.  Last year’s silage had a DMD of 78%.  This meant that no concentrate was fed to weanlings over the winter.

“I had 110 weanlings last winter and feeding them 2kg/day would have cost me €6,000.  While the Friesian steers were a bit scrawny going to grass, I got great compensatory growth and they averaged 1.2kg/day up to July,” he said.

The quality of this year’s silage is back a bit, at 71-75DMD.  He will probably have to feed the weanlings around a kilo/day of a high protein ration to keep them on a good growth curve.

The bucket-reared calves are fed meal for about two weeks after they are weaned off milk replacer.  They are then on high quality grass only for the rest of the grazing season.


Even with doing everything right, Dara Walton is frustrated with the economic viability of beef production.

“Price is the determining issue.  At €3.60-€3.65/kg, the economics just don’t stack up.  The price would need to be in the €3.90-€3.95 range for me to get a viable income and return on my labour and investment.”

Watch: Fine Tuning Irish Dairy Webinar

On Wednesday September 2nd, MSD Animal Health, The National Dairy Council and Axa Insurance hosted the Fine-Tuning Irish Dairy Conference for a second year running by means of a digital webinar.

WATCH: Fine-Tuning Irish Dairy Webinar Session 2 – Adopting Monitoring Technology on Irish Dairy Farms

0:00 – 19:30: Presentation by William Minchin, Ruminant Director, MSD Animal Health

19:30 – 54:00: Panel discussion including Cara Sheridan, Vet Adviser, MSD Animal Health who discusses the role of the vet with monitoring technology ; Eamon Sheehan, Dairy Farmer who has installed this technology and gives an insight to how it is performing on his farm and, George Ramsbottom, Dairy Specialist, Teagasc who discusses the return on investment and making monitoring technology work on your farm.

Moderated by Matt O’Keeffe

Panel discussion: Fine-Tuning Irish Dairy Webinar Session 2 – Adopting Monitoring Technology on Irish Dairy Farms

Salmonella – The notorious bacterial disease that no-one wants on their farm


Salmonella infection is one of the most well-known diseases affecting cattle in Ireland. Samonella infections is a serious drain on the profitability and productivity of the Irish dairy herd. In addition, there is the added risk of being a zoonotic disease, meaning infection can be transmitted to humans from animals. Infection in the dairy herd has the potential to cost up to €112 per cow, per year. Research has shown that herds which include vaccination as part of a control plan record superior profits in comparison to unvaccinated, positive herds to a value of €11,800 based on a 100-cow herd.

Salmonella is considered endemic in Ireland and can be commonly found in herds throughout the country. The majority of salmonella infections in Irish cattle are caused by one of the following serotypes: Salmonella typhimurium or Salmonella dublin, with abortion outbreaks typically associated with Salmonella dublin. Other clinical signs such as pneumonia, meningitis, arthritis, osteomyelitis and sloughing of extremities are also seen. Salmonella is primarily shed in the dung of infected cattle and infection is usually picked up by oral ingestion. Once an animal is infected, they can become carriers of the infection for life. This is known as latency and it is an important component in maintaining infection within a herd. Carrier cattle will often shed the bacteria during times of stress such as around calving or changes in management, acting as a source of infection to the rest of the herd. As many dairy herds have expanded in recent years, there has been a heightened risk of introduction of the disease through the buying-in of these carrier animals.


              As with any disease outbreak it is important to involve your attending veterinary practitioner to assist with diagnosing the exact cause of disease and to formulate an effective control plan. Diagnosis of infection by post mortem investigation is considered gold standard. Any aborted foetuses should go to the local regional veterinary laboratory as soon as possible. In a scour outbreak, multiple dung samples can be used to help identify bacteria while paired blood samples can be taken can be taken to demonstrate a rising level of immunity to the infection. The first sample is taken during the active phase of infection while the second sample is taken four weeks later.

Bulk milk antibody testing can be a useful surveillance tool for dairy herds too. Although results might not indicate active infection within herd at the time of sampling, monitoring results can give an idea of the level of exposure within the herd and potential trends of infection. Recent research has shown exposure of Irish dairy herds to salmonella is very common, with 49% of bulk milk tanks testing positive for salmonella antibodies, indicating cattle in these herds had come into contact with the bacteria at some point in the preceding months.


As the disease is notoriously difficult to eliminate from farms, vaccination and strict management measures must be implemented to reduce the spread of infection. These can include –

  • Maintaining a closed herd/purchase from herds of known disease status – If buying in, quarantine arrivals for a period of 4 weeks minimum.
  • Strict biosecurity – Cows which have aborted should be isolated for one month and any abortion materials should be disposed of in a hygienic manner. Ensure fencing is stock proof to avoid break-in infection from neighbouring herds.  
  • Management of slurry – Salmonella bacteria can survive for prolonged periods in slurry tanks and for up to 300 days on soil. Faecal material from clinical cases must be prevented from entering the slurry tank.
  • Strict hygiene – A disinfection point should be in place for everyone who enters and leaves farm to use. Hygiene of buildings between batches of animals is critical while personal hygiene should also be maintained as a result of the zoonotic risk.
  • Rodent and bird control – As pests can spread disease, a plan should be in place for rigorous control, especially with regard to access to feed stores.


            Bovivac S is the only vaccine available for Salmonella dublin and Salmonella typhimurium in Ireland. For best herd control of salmonellosis, it is advisable to vaccinate all animals in the herd. Healthy calves from approximately three weeks of age can receive the primary vaccination course of two 2ml injections separated by an interval of 14-21 days.  Calves over six months of age and adult cattle should receive two 5ml injections 21 days apart. Depending on the level of infection circulating in the herd, one annual vaccination should maintain a sufficient level of immunity in the herd. Although not licensed for the control of abortion, research has reported that the proportion of Salmonella dublin positive abortions from vaccinated herds was significantly lower than in herds which were not vaccinating. To determine the most appropriate time to vaccinate your herd, please consult with your attending veterinary practitioner.

In conclusion, the implications of a salmonella outbreak can be severe and result in significant financial, production and welfare costs. Not to mention the stress of its potential zoonotic risk. Vaccination can form the cornerstone of control along with good management, strict hygiene protocols and high biosecurity standards.

Tackling lungworm on a Cork dairy farm

This post is provided by Tommy Heffernan

Three years ago I met a very enthusiastic young vet student and his mam for the first time. Sean has since qualified and is now working as a full-time vet in Glenbower vets in Cork, a member of XLVets Ireland. I visited Sean on his family dairy farm to see how he has tackled lungworm control since 2013. His dad Gerry milks 110 Holstein Friesians with a split herd, with 45 calving down in autumn and the rest in spring, all calves being taken through to beef.

Lungworm and coughing dairy cows are now a big problem in many herds. Over the last five years, we have seen more and more herd cases where this problem is dramatically effecting performance and profit.

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to take a deeper look at all things lungworm, in an awareness campaign.

The problem

Lungworm is an increasing issue on many Irish pasture-based systems. The weather, overuse of dosing (youngstock) and grazing strategies all mean the lungworm parasite (dictyocaulus viviparous) has been affecting many herds.

Traditionally we have controlled this parasite with the use of anthelmintics or wormers. On some dairy farms, this has been limited during lactation by the fact only one product is now licensed. I’ve had many conversations with farmers now dosing cows 3+ times during the grazing season.

Lungworm control is also difficult because of the sudden onset of symptoms and sometimes difficulty in diagnosing reinfection syndrome. Where often as Sean described himself in the video, where vets use BAL (bronchoalveolar lavage) or lung washes to make a diagnosis.

With only one licensed product for lactating animals and the ever-growing threat around anthelmintic resistance, this means we must look at options around control on farms dosing cows regularly during their lactation to control lungworm.  With the development of immunity being key to lungworm control, the use of the lungworm vaccine is a real option for farmers.

Sean’s story

In 2012 Sean had big issues with coughing cows and lungworm. This was a very wet year, and these are conditions that lungworms really thrive in.

The cows and young heifers were coughing while at grass, and dropping back in production. They were dosed but the problem continued when the dose ran the course of its therapeutic dose. This meant a summer where cattle on the farm had to receive several doses (anthelmintics).

They investigated the problem with their vet and diagnosed lungworm.

Sean began researching his options and discovered a lot of farms in the UK using the lungworm vaccine with good success. While whole herd vaccination is very much the gold standard, Sean implemented a partial dosing strategy before his 2013 grazing season.

He targeted all his 2nd grazers and 1st lactation animals with two doses of oral lungworm vaccine during the winter housing period of 2013. He now continues this protocol with all yearlings receiving two doses and 1st lactation (heifers) getting an annual booster.

He got great results with the lungworm vaccine since implementing the program. Over the last seven years, he hasn’t had to dose his herd during the grazing period. He continues to monitor his younger stock for other worms and dose them accordingly (calves 1st grazers). Cows now only receive a worm dose at the end of their lactation at housing

The key thing around lungworm vaccination seems to be planning. It is a live vaccine and needs to be ordered in advance of the dosing period. It also must be stored and used quickly by oral administration.

While Sean has had fantastic results every farm must assess their own risk and come up with a plan or strategy with their vet. The aim for any farm should be to reduce down anthelmintics where possible especially in adult animals in the herd.

Can cats cause abortion in my ewes?

There are many infectious and non-infectious causes of abortion in ewes. However, one of the most commonly diagnosed agents can be introduced by our own farm cats.

Cats become infected with Toxoplasma gondii when they eat infected prey. The parasite multiplies in the lining of the guts before passing out in their faeces.

The main source of infection for sheep is feed and pasture contaminated with cat faeces containing infectious oocysts or parasite eggs.

Ref: Toxoplasmosis Fact Sheet, Moredun Research Institute

Should I rehome my farm cat?

Cats shed oocysts for around 10-14 days so by the time ewes are infected and abortions occur, your cat has developed strong immunity and has stopped shedding. Most cats will only start shedding oocysts again if they become ill or are infected with an immunosuppressive virus.

What is the outcome of infection?

After infection, Toxoplasma gondii parasites circulate in the blood of a pregnant ewe and can cross the placenta, spreading to the unborn lambs.

Depending on the timing of infection and the stage of gestation, the clinical outcome may differ.

If infection occurs for the first-time in mid pregnancy, Toxoplasmosis has a profound effect on the reproductive health of the ewe. Clinical signs include abortion or stillborn and/or weak lambs often along with a small, mummified foetus.

Characteristic ’white spot’ lesions on the placenta may be present which are usually visible to the naked eye.

Infection occurring during either early or late gestation can result in foetal death and loss or abortion. However, infection in the latter part of gestation, when foetal immunity is relatively well-developed, may have no clinical effect, with the lambs being born normal, but infected and immune.

Following infection, sheep acquire an immunity. They remain immune but infected for life (with Toxoplasma gondii in tissue cysts in brain and muscle) and will not usually abort due to toxoplasmosis in future pregnancies.

Human health considerations

Toxoplasmosis is an important zoonosis. Humans become infected by ingesting tissue cysts in undercooked meat, or consuming food or drink contaminated with Toxoplasma gondii oocysts.

If contact with animals that have aborted or have recently given birth is unavoidable, open wounds (cuts, grazes etc,) should be covered with waterproof dressings and hands should be thoroughly washed after handling animals to prevent the possibility of infection. Pregnant women should avoid all contact with ewes at lambing time or rearing orphan lambs that could be infected.

Most infections in humans are asymptomatic, but the parasite can produce devastating disease depending on the time infection occurs. Congenital infection occurs only when a woman becomes infected during pregnancy, and infections acquired during the first trimester are more severe than those in the second and third trimester. A wide spectrum of clinical disease occurs in congenitally infected children.

Control measures in sheep

Control measures include good management of food and water sources to limit the contamination with cat faeces, as well as vaccination of breeding females prior to tupping. Initially the whole flock should receive a vaccination dose at least three weeks before introduction of the ram. Replacements are vaccinated each year thereafter, again at least three weeks before tupping. Speak to your veterinary practitioner for more information.

MSD Animal Health Completes Acquisition of VECOXAN®

MSD Animal Health Completes Acquisition of Worldwide Rights to VECOXAN® Brand of Parasiticides for Ruminant Portfolio  

Broadens MSD Animal Health’s Position with Enhanced Parasite Protection in Calves and Lambs

MSD Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA, today (Aug., 3, 2020) announced the completion of its previously announced acquisition of the worldwide rights to VECOXAN® (diclazuril), an oral suspension for the prevention and treatment of coccidiosis in calves and lambs, from Elanco Animal Health.

VECOXAN is efficacious, in lambs, against coccidiosis caused by Eimeria crandallis and Eimeria ovinoidalis, and in calves, against coccidiosis caused by Eimeria bovis and Eimeria zuernii. VECOXAN is available in Europe, South Africa, South Korea and Japan.

Parasite control and protection is an essential and significant part of ruminant overall health management and outcomes. “With advanced digital and diagnostic solutions to manage the welfare of animals as critical components of our technology, we are dedicated to advancing the health and well-being of animals and the people who take care of them,” said Rick DeLuca, president, MSD Animal Health.  “This complementary product for youngstock will add to our existing portfolio of veterinary medicines, vaccines and services, and underscores our commitment to The Science of Healthier Animals®. The extensive breadth and depth of our product portfolio provides a full range of complementary solutions for our customers to improve the health and well-being of animals and the people who care for them.”

“The first months of a calf’s or lamb’s life can impact its future health. VECOXAN will expand our portfolio for the prevention of disease for younger animals, including the the recently launched Bovilis® INtranasal RSP™ Live, an intranasal vaccine to help protect young cattle against respiratory disease,” said Philippe Houffschmitt, DVM, Global Ruminants Lead, MSD Animal Health. “As global demand for protein increases, we are committed to providing comprehensive solutions that will support a safe and sustainable food supply.”

Coccidiosis, a common cause of scours (diarrhoea) in lambs and calves that is highly prevalent on cattle and sheep farms, is caused by protozoan parasites called Eimeria that multiply in the intestinal wall, transmitted from animal to animal by the fecal-oral route. Clinical signs include painful scours with or without blood, and decreased appetite and depression, which may progress to dehydration and weight loss. Coccidiosis primarily affects young animals; calves and lambs as young as three to four weeks of age may be affected.

Coccidiosis causes significant economic loss to farmers and producers due to reduced feed conversion, reduced growth rates, reduced performance or death, and by increased susceptibility to other infections, such as intestinal disease or Bovine Respiratory Disease.


            VECOXAN is an anticoccidial of the benzeneacetonitrile group without antimicrobial activity and has anticoccidial activity against Eimeria species. The product can be used in calves and lambs, beef and dairy, of any weight, in any management system, without environmental restrictions. It has a zero-day meat withdrawal period.

About MSD Animal Health

For more than a century, MSD, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases. MSD Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA, is the global animal health business unit of MSD. Through its commitment to the Science of Healthier Animals®, MSD Animal Health offers veterinarians, farmers, pet owners and governments one of the widest ranges of veterinary pharmaceuticals, vaccines and health management solutions and services as well as an extensive suite of digitally connected identification, traceability and monitoring products. MSD Animal Health is dedicated to preserving and improving the health, welfare and performance of animals and the people who care for them. It invests extensively in dynamic and comprehensive R&D resources and a modern, global supply chain. MSD Animal Health is present in more than 50 countries, while its products are available in some 150 markets. For more information, visit, or connect with us on Twitter @msd_ah.


  1. EU Summary of Product Characteristics. Vecoxan 2.5 mg/ml Oral Suspension for lambs and calves. Available at
  2. Agneessens J, Goossens L, Veys P, Gradwell D (2005). Efficacy of diclazuril (Vecoxan) against naturally acquired Eimeria infections in suckling beef calves and economic benefits of treatment. Cattle Practice, The Journal of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, 13, 231-234.
  3. Agneessens J, Goossens L, Louineau J, Daugschies A, Veys P. (2006) Build-up of immunity after a diclazuril (Vecoxan) treatment in calves. Poster at 24th World Buiatrics Congress, Nice, France.
  4. Willemsen MHA, Zechner G, Goossens  L, Jacobs J, (2011). Coccidiosis under German field conditions: the importance of immunity. Poster at European Conference of Bovine Health Management, Beerse, Belgium.

Reducing the risk of Enzootic Abortion

Most farmers expect sporadic abortions around the beginning of the lambing period. The level of sheep abortion can rise with increasing flock size. External non-infectious events can cause sheep abortion. However, a few isolated abortions can precipitate quickly into an outbreak or an ‘abortion storm’. When the incidence rapidly surpasses two per cent of the ewe flock effected or if there are several abortions in a short time period, then a diagnosis of the cause should be investigated. Many of the infectious agents that cause ewes to lose their unborn lambs can also affect women. Therefore, it is important to obtain an accurate diagnosis of the cause to protect against these devastating diseases. 

Sheep abortion article

Diagnosing the cause

Freshly aborted lambs and the placenta (cleanings), if available, should be submitted to the regional veterinary laboratory for post mortem analysis. Some pathogens damage the placenta therefore they remain a valuable part of the diagnostic process.

Major pathogens associated with sheep abortions

In 2016 there were 728 cases of sheep abortion investigated by regional veterinary laboratories on the island of Ireland. As in previous years, toxoplasmosis and enzootic abortion of ewes (EAE) were the two most commonly recorded causes of ovine abortion.

Table one: Summary of the causes of ovine abortion diagnosed by AFBI and DAFM in 2016. Reference: All-Island animal disease surveillance report, 2016.

Enzootic abortion

Enzootic abortion is caused by a bacterial agent called Chlamydophila abortus and represents an important production disease of sheep flocks in many countries.

The infection is introduced to a clean flock via purchasing infected replacement ewes. Healthy ewes become infected with C. abortus through contact with the bacteria in lambing fluids and the placenta of an aborting ewe, or through breathing in aerosols from the contaminated environment. 

Infection up to 5-6 weeks prior to parturition results in clinical disease and abortion in the final 2–3 weeks of gestation occurs, or birth of stillborn or weak lambs that frequently die in the first few days of life.

Ewes that do not abort can become latent carriers with no clinical signs until the next lambing season. Surviving lambs born to infected mothers may be affected in their first pregnancy.

Control measures in sheep

Management of Enzootic Abortion should always include the rapid removal of ewes that are aborting. In addition, aborted foetuses and cleanings from the lambing pen, followed by thorough disinfection. Antimicrobial treatment of ewes with long-acting antibiotics in the face of an outbreak is commonly practiced. However, the benefit of this treatment is difficult to evaluate as they provide no protective immunity in subsequent lambing seasons.

Vaccination is useful to reduce the risk of Enzootic Abortion in uninfected ewes and reduce the spread of the disease within the flock. All breeding females should be vaccinated before tupping. Initially the whole flock should receive a vaccination dose before introduction of the ram and replacements are vaccinated every year.

Sheep Production

Human health considerations

It is important to remember that Enzootic Abortion is a zoonosis which can have particularly serious consequences for pregnant women. Infection with C. abortus is usually due to exposure to infected foetal fluids and membranes of sheep or goats. Women who are, or may be, pregnant are advised to avoid involvement with the flocks of small ruminants at lambing time.

For more information, speak to your veterinary surgeon.