Lifestyle blocks are unfortunately a great place to find sheep decorated with dags.  With the warm damp weather right now in the North Island, every blowfly in the district is heading for those nice moist dirty backsides to produce their next generation and create awful pain and suffering in the process. There can be no worse end for a sheep than to be eaten alive.

Dagging sheep is the worst job on the farm.  Lifestyle blocks have extra problems as few have good sheep handling facilities.  The minimum required is a set of yards so sheep can be caught, checked and treated.  It’s very difficult to notice flystrike in the paddock until it’s at an advanced stage when suffering sheep disappear into drains and scrub to get rid of their torture.

Even with good facilities, the human pain of dagging only gets worse with age.  It attacks you in the back, the hips, knees and in the brain!  Shepherds used to say that it wasn’t just the physical effort that was the killer; it was the boredom of the viewing sheeps’ dirty rear ends for days on end.  Oh and add to the above pleasures the enjoyment of a bout of campylobacter or salmonella that live in animal dung. Dags are sheep dung and for average quality with a considerable wool content 20c/kg is top money.  High-dung content dags are worthless.

It’s getting harder to find people willing to dag sheep, and this will only get worse, even at the current rate of 70 cents a sheep.  Shearers will not dag sheep as it’s a health and safety issue banned by their union.  It’s a wise move, as they can’t afford time of work with bacterial infections.  Dagging has got to stop as it’s costing the nation millions of dollars a year.

The place to start is with the rams going out this autumn.  Farmers should check the Faecal Egg Count (FEC) of all rams to be used, provided they have not been drenched for 10 weeks, and any ram with more than 500 worm eggs per gram of faeces (epg) should not be used.  The other important criterion is that he should be producing a Faecal Consistency Score (FCS) of either “marbles” or “hand grenades” and NOT “slops, plops or scour”.  The Holy Grail is zero FEC and FCS of marbles! 

There’s no point in using rams with low FEC with sloppy faeces as they’ll breed offspring that you’ll have to dag for the rest of your days.  Dags are inherited (heritability of 25%) so genetics is the way to fix things and not by  more drenching which will only end up with more drench resistant worms.

Worm larvae on the pasture (where 90% of their lifecycle resides) have less chance of survival in marbles or hand grenades due to dehydration and radiation.

Contact me if you want more details on FEC and FCS. It’s fully described in my book “Internal parasites in sheep and their control – now and in the future”.

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