Jennifer MacKenzie is an agricultural photo journalist with almost 30 year's experience. Operating from her base in Cumbria, Jennifer undertakes mainly industry-related freelance writing and photography.

Vaccination keeps Orf at bay

An outbreak of the sheep viral condition Orf convinced the Coates family that a vaccination programme was essential, particularly as the disease prevented selling at the main autumn North of England Mule gimmer lamb fixtures.

Richard (with cap) and Bryan Coates and Mary Dawson and Swaledale ewes and lambs
Bryan, left, and Richard Coates with Mary Dawson and Swaledale ewes and lambs

That was 25 years ago and brothers Richard and Bryan Coates have continued to vaccinate all the lambs produced from their 1,000-ewe Swaledale flock, which runs on the slopes of Whernside at Braidagarth, Westhouse near Ingleton.

"The Orf outbreak among the weaned lambs during August and September that year meant we weren't able to sell them until six or eight weeks later, by which time we had missed the association sales and had to sell them through ordinary breeding sheep sales," recalls Richard Coates

"Not only is it a preventative disease management measure for us, but the feedback we get from buyers is that they prefer the lambs to be vaccinated."

Richard (with cap) and Bryan Coates and Mary Dawson and Swaledale ewes and lambs

The Coates farm 1,250 acres at Braidagarth, running from 1,000ft at the steading to 1,500ft on the enclosed hill land. When the Coates family moved to the farm from Troutbeck near Windermere in 1969, they also took on the farm's flock of Dalesbred sheep.

They still have a flock of 100 of the local breed ewes and the brothers treat the flock's health as a priority, particularly as they show the sheep during the summer with success.

During the 2005 season at Malham, Bentham, Westmorland County, Gargrave and Masham shows they collected four breed championships and two reserves with a home-bred ewe and a gimmer shearling.

Unlike most neighbouring farms, which share common land on the hill, the Coates are able to keep their sheep flock contained. They do not buy in replacements and rams are quarantined after purchase in the autumn, during which time their health status is regularly checked, in line with the policy they follow with their vet, Neil Roberts, of Dalehead.

The policy has been to vaccinate all the lambs against Orf - half the Swaledale flock is bred pure for replacements while the remainder are crossed with the Bluefaced Leicester to produce the Mule gimmer lambs.

Originally the lambs were vaccinated at three weeks to a month old, but because it was time consuming and more stressful to gather the animals, they are now vaccinated within 24 hours of birth.

Vaccination against Orf is now part of the routine for the newborn lambs
along with ear tagging. The Coates have found the Scabivax Forte vaccine and
applicator to be much easier to use than the previous system. It is an updated formulation that also protects against 'wild strains' of the disease and the pump-mechanism applicator definitely delivers the appropriate vaccine dose very effectively. "The vaccination is still a simple scratch, but now you can put down the new pump mechanism applicator without spillage," points out Bryan Coates.

Ewes with twins are lambed indoors while those carrying singles are outside,
with the ewes put to the Leicester starting on March 25 and the Swaledales bred pure following on from April 12.

Mary Dawson, who runs her own flock of Bluefaced Leicesters, helps the brothers. She is employed full time during lambing. But they rely on contractors for fertiliser spreading and silage making.

The Coates also vaccinate against pneumonia and enzootic abortion and the health status of their gimmer lambs pays when they sell at North of England Mule Sheep Association sales at Skipton and Bentham. Their entry of 450 to 500 is always at the top end of the averages.

Richard (with cap) and Bryan Coates and Mary Dawson and Swaledale ewes and lambs

Wether lambs, which are also vaccinated for Orf, are finished off grass and sold from August through to the end of October. This acts as an insurance policy as an outbreak of orf would set back the lambs and delay their marketing.

The wether lambs are finished on 200 acres of ground also used for silage cropping at 200ft above sea level five miles from the farm and are sold through Lancaster auction mart weighing 40-45kg liveweight.

Last autumn in Lancaster they won the society-sponsored competitions for the North of England Mule wether lambs as well as the Swaledale wethers, the lambs weighing 45kg and 44kg respectively.

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