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Beyond the Bale : June 2015
34 ON FARM Is yours one of the 25 per cent of Australian properties whose sheep have lice, or do you still apply a lice treatment routinely each year? If so, it could be time to review your approach with the aim of getting rid of lice for good, resulting in saved treatment costs and labour, and improved fleece value. LiceBoss calculations show that a lice infestation can lower fleece value by between $3 and $9 per head*, mainly by decreasing fleece weight and yield, and affecting colour (*2012 wool prices for 18–20 micron wool). While there may be a lower economic impact in the first year of an infestation, if left untreated, lice numbers can build to levels where a 30 per cent to 40 per cent reduction in fleece value may be experienced. While high quality fencing goes a long way to maintaining a lice-free property, it may not be the answer to your problem. Firstly, ask yourself, where have this year’s lice come from? There are only three possible answers, and the first is very common, especially if you’ve had lice in your flock for a number of years: • Lice were on the sheep last shearing and treatment was not effective. • Lice have come in on other sheep: those that have been purchased; your sheep that have strayed into a lousy flock and returned; or other lousy sheep that have strayed into your flock. • Lice have been transferred to your sheep in some other way, such as on shearer’s moccasins or clothing or your sheep have been shorn in a shed that very recently had lousy sheep. While these options are possible, non-sheep transmission of lice is extremely rare. Eradicating lice is very simple, yet extremely difficult. Numerous products and application methods are 100 per cent effective, and all the lice are there on the sheep; not on pastures or flying around like worms and flies. However, because there are many things to consider and treatment has to be right on every one of the hundreds or thousands of sheep on the property, eradication requires attention to detail. So, this year, where can you focus your attention, so that lice can be eradicated? IN THE LEAD UP TO SHEARING CHECK WHETHER LICE ARE PRESENT If there are no lice, ‘just-in-case’ treatments are rarely warranted, except when sheep have been introduced to the property in the past six months, when an infestation may not yet be detectable. To check for lice, catch sheep that have the most ‘rubbed’ appearance, lay them in the sunlight and part the wool on the sides. Make 10 vertical partings on each side of the sheep from the neck to the tail, each 10cm long, and expose the skin. Use glasses or a magnifying glass and look for movement of the tiny yellowy-brown lice close to the skin. PLAN TO KEEP LICE OUT ONCE YOU’VE ERADICATED THOSE THAT ARE PRESENT The cost to upgrade all of your boundary fences to ‘stockproof ’ condition is often prohibitive, so identify sections of the boundary where lousy sheep are most likely to come in and make these a priority to repair or upgrade. While it might be obvious, it’s impossible to get lice from the neighbour’s flock if they don’t have lice. Therefore, it’s in your interest to help your neighbours, and their neighbours, to eradicate lice. Sometimes, seeking help from a sheep extension officer, stock inspector or animal health advisor can be the easiest way to start communications about lice with neighbours. DECIDE HOW YOU’LL MANAGE INTRODUCED SHEEP Ask the neighbour to hold strays for collection rather than dropping them back Woolgrowers should be vigilant against lice infestations, which can affect an enterprise’s bottom line by downgrading wool quality and reducing fleece weight. While eradication of lice is quite achievable, it requires attention to detail. THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL ERADICATING LICE: Lousy sheep will show rubbed wool and will scratch. PHOTO: Deb Maxwell