Dreaded campylobacter lambing disease moderates on Kangaroo Island

A ewe feeds her lamb on the north coast of Kangaroo Island.
A ewe feeds her lamb on the north coast of Kangaroo Island.

Kangaroo Island sheep producers have held their breath after the detection of three cases of the dreaded campylobacter disease.

The good news is the disease seems to be moderating, at least on one fire-affected property, where it initially resulted in hundreds of aborted fetuses at the start of the lambing season.

The disease has been confirmed at a property at Karrata and also at a Parndana property, with a third suspected outbreak at another Parndana farm.

Recent research seems to indicate the disease may have existed in low, background levels on Kangaroo Island prior to the bushfires.

The aftermath of the fires there was more confinement and other factors that may have led to outbreaks and the bacteria also thrives in cold, wet conditions.

The state's chief veterinary officer is now urging caution and hygiene on KI farms, as the disease can spread easily within a flock.

One of those producers who recently detected campylobacter in his flock is Rick Morris on the south coast, who is chairman of Agriculture Kangaroo Island.

After surviving the fires, he was devastated to pick up the disease on his property at Karrata, where he runs 4500 crossbred ewes.

He said they first began to notice something was off at scanning, with one ewe aborting then.

The disease can result in a shocking 80 per cent mortality rate

But the good news is that Mr Morris said the disease seemed to be moderating and he was now predicting losses on his property of between 8 and 10 per cent.

"Our lamb losses have settled down as we move further into lambing" he said.

Mr Morris lost 400 ewes and 90 per cent of his pastures in the fires.

"We had replaced 60 kilometres of fencing to get everything in order ready for lambing, and now we have had this kick in the guts," he said.

"We had considered ourselves lucky because we only lost 10 per cent of our sheep from the fires, but now we are copping it. This could set us back years.

"KI producers have done such good work in managing footrot and OJD, and I'm sure this will also be well managed with testing and vaccination."

The disease was measurable and could be managed with a vaccine.

"This shouldn't affect KI's good reputation to produce breeding ewes, rams and store lambs," he said.

It's lambing season on Kangaroo Island.

It's lambing season on Kangaroo Island.

PIRSA response

PIRSA is reminding sheep producers to be vigilant on the health of pregnant ewes following the confirmation of three cases of Campylobacter fetus spp (formerly known as ovine vibriosis) on Kangaroo Island.

A bacterial infection, ovine campylobacteriosis can cause abortion in ewes, normally during late pregnancy.

Chief veterinary officer Mary Carr said the infection is highly infectious and can spread quickly within a flock.

"Campylobacter abortions occur sporadically mainly during cold, wet seasons and can be associated with intensive management practices where ewes are congregated close together," she said.

"It is a widespread bacteria that can be carried by healthy sheep and other animals, including birds, so we believe it is possible that Campylobacter has been present on the island for a very long time.

"Reproductive losses as a result of this disease do occur sporadically in South Australia, particularly with naive pregnant sheep are infected.

"Given the highly infectious nature of the disease, producers need to be aware that all aborted tissues, foetal membranes and discharges should be collected and removed as quickly as possible to prevent further spread of infection within the flock and to protect the water supply from contamination.

"Anyone handling aborted lambs, ewes with discharges or placental material should also practice strict hygiene measures including wearing gloves and to take care to disinfect hands and clothing afterwards."

Dr Carr said producers should seek advice from private veterinarians as to whether affected ewes may benefit from being treated with antibiotics to try to reduce losses through uterine or generalised infection.

A vaccine is also commercially available that may provide immunity against Campylobacter abortion and should be used prior to any potential exposure to the disease.

"Producers who believe their flock or some groups of their ewes may be at risk, should discuss vaccination and other options with their veterinarian," she said.

"While most ewes can recover promptly from the disease and are immune afterwards, producers should be aware that some sheep may continue to carry the disease and remain a source of infection to other susceptible animals, particularly any ewes that have been newly introduced onto a property."

Dr Carr advised producers to also seek advice from private veterinarians or other consultants with livestock experience regarding preventative health programs for their sheep.

"PIRSA also has disease surveillance funding available to assist producers to investigate any outbreak of disease events on their property through private veterinarians," she said. "Producers who feel the need for such investigations on their property should contact their private vet for more information."

For further information on PIRSA's Livestock Disease Surveillance program visit www.pir.sa.gov.au/biosecurity/animal_health/veterinarians/livestock_disease_surveillance

Comments