Public demand is moving animal-based production toward systems such as organic production. The standards required to allow an organic label for sheep products promote animal health through management and disease prevention rather than by the use of medicines. However, with current knowledge, these standards are often aspirational rather than practical and can lead to health issues and welfare concerns in organic flocks that do not have management systems dedicated to this approach.
Organic flocks should be established from known health-status flocks that are free of testable and eradicable diseases such as footrot, maedi, scrapie, and enzootic abortion. Flocks should be maintained as closed flocks as much as practicable, and new genetic stock sourced from known health-status flocks. Any new stock must be quarantined and clinically examined and tested before introduction to the main flock and its pastures. Preventing entry of disease is fundamental, necessitating a high degree of biosecurity.
Parasitic gastroenteritis can be of particular concern in organic sheep production. Further, while the regulations of some countries allow judicious use of anthelmintics, others do not. Management systems should strive to avoid or reduce parasitic larval intake, especially that resulting from the periparturient egg rise, by grazing clean paddocks from alternate crops, mixed species grazing, rotational grazing, and attention to stocking rates. Further strategies include grazing plants that may reduce GI parasitism (eg, chicory, sanfoin, birdsfoot trefoil), the use of copper oxide needles, and breeding for genetic resistance.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by Clive C. Gay, DVM, MVSc, DVSc (Hons), FACVSc, DACIM (Hons)