One of the conditions I get asked about time and time again as lambing approaches is Joint Ill.
What is Joint Ill?
Joint Ill is an infectious arthritis seen in lambs, usually within the first few weeks after birth. In the past this condition has generally been thought to be associated with poor lambing hygiene. However, cases investigated in recent years by post-mortem examination providers and universities suggest multiple risk factors for this disease.
Joint Ill can be divided into three main categories according to the causal organism:- Streptococcus dysgalactiae, Erysipelas and ‘other causes’. In cases of arthritis in lambs examined by official laboratories across the county between 2002 and 2020, by far the most common cause of Joint Ill was found to be Strep. dysgalactiae, which accounted for 63% of all cases. Lambs in the neonatal and pre-weaned age categories constituted 90% of S dysgalactiae arthritis cases, where the age was recorded and 91% of the cases were recorded between February and May.
What are the risk factors?
The APHA Small Ruminant Expert Group reviewed a number of cases of Joint Ill, investigated across the country and concluded that, whilst there are a number of general risk factors associated with Joint Ill, outbreaks are often associated with farm specific risk factors. For example, one farm might have subclinical trace element deficiencies that might increase their risk of disease, or poor vaccination technique, or other underlying disease issues.
Whilst you can certainly reduce your risk of disease by optimising hygiene around lambing time, as described below, some of the risk factors for Joint Ill can be farm-specific and therefore prevention measures must also be targeted to the needs of your individual farm.
Given there are a range of causes of Joint Ill (for which risk factors may vary). This also highlights the importance of on-farm investigations and laboratory diagnosis (in the form of post-mortem examination of affected animals) to allow the implementation of a control plan, which can be tailored to your individual farm needs.
Top tips for general hygiene control points for both indoor and outdoor lambing:-
- Stomach tube and bottle hygiene – every effort should be made to ensure any feeding equipment is cleaned and disinfected between lambs.
- Ear tag hygiene – ensure ear tags are free from dirt and faecal matter and consider sterilising in strong iodine solution prior to insertion. Ears should also be clean. Try to avoid tagging in wet conditions if outdoor lambing.
- For indoor lambers, pen hygiene is vitally important to prevent the build-up of infectious organisms. Ideally pens should be cleaned out between use, but as a minimum, use a disinfectant spray or powder and plenty of fresh straw between animals.
- Hand hygiene – this can easily be forgotten during a busy lambing period but is vitally important. Wearing gloves and carrying spares can help to maintain hygiene in urgent situations.
- Elastrator ring hygiene – when castrating and tail docking use clean rubber rings and ensure lambs are clean where rings are placed. The use of local anaesthetic and or anti-inflammatories at the time of docking and castrating will reduce stress and pain associated with these procedures and will help to ensure lambs continue to suckle, gaining that vitally important protective colostrum. Strong iodine solution can also be used to disinfect rings prior to use.
Louise Silk – Synergy Farm Health, Veterinary Surgeon MA VetMB MRCVS