Economics are an essential consideration. In addition to animal welfare and public health considerations, veterinary services should aim to increase net farm income rather than just control disease. Although the diagnosis, treatment, and control of disease, including the investigation of outbreaks to solve a disease problem, are important on most farms, outbreaks of clinical disease are of minor importance to longterm profitability. Advice that is technically sound from a disease control perspective may be detrimental to the overall economic well-being of the farm. For example, a reduced stocking rate may mean better nutrition for the flock, fewer lamb mortalities, and lower burdens of GI parasites, but a significantly lower net farm income. Net income per hectare is generally very sensitive to changes in stocking rate.
A better approach involves a “flock health” program. These are designed to anticipate health and production problems and, when it is economic to do so, to implement appropriate prevention measures. A flock health program must be tailored to the needs of the specific farm. For most farms, key areas of flock health programs include: 1) controlling internal and external parasites; 2) preventing diseases for which there is a cost-effective vaccination program; 3) preventing the introduction of contagious diseases, such as footrot, brucellosis, and external parasites; and 4) improving the number of lambs weaned per ewe bred, with enhanced ewe and ram fertility and reduced lamb mortalities.
When wool is the major source of income, the economic outcome from an outbreak of disease or nutritional problem is not always obvious. For example, a moderate parasite burden may cause ill-thrift and a reduction in kilograms of wool cut per head, but a reduction in fiber diameter as well, which results in a more valuable fleece. A ewe that does not conceive or aborts in the first 3 mo of pregnancy may produce more wool than a ewe that rears a lamb, because a ewe rearing a lamb has a higher nutritional requirement and produces less wool than a dry ewe. Fiber and meat prices should be considered when providing advice.
Beyond a flock health program, veterinarians can also develop a comprehensive flock management advisory service. These programs adopt a whole farm approach that considers the physical and financial resources of the farm and the interaction of livestock production with other activities such as cropping and pasture production. The stocking rate, type of stock run, timing of husbandry procedures, marketing strategies, and risk management should be reviewed as part of the program. A financial analysis of the farm as a business and preparation of farm budgets and gross margin analyses is a key part of most programs.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by Clive C. Gay, DVM, MVSc, DVSc (Hons), FACVSc, DACIM (Hons)