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This article was published in 1950
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Control of Sheep Lice and Ked


J.C. BEARDWOOD. B.V.Sc., Inspector of Stock, Bathurst.

Hildred (1940) contributed the benefit of his long experience in this work to some extent, but it is felt that with the increasing importance of saleyards work and the advent of several new inspectors, since that time, that contribution might be extended now with advantage.

Sheep lice and ked must be controlled until such time as eradication becomes practicable; and there cannot be any doubt that regular and systematic inspections at District saleyards is the greatest single factor in the measure of control now possible. The inspector who has at least one well-established and widely-known saleyards in his area is fortunate; in that he can be sure that at least 90% of the sheepowners in his District will use those yards sooner or later and so become subject to review so far as lice and ked are concerned. Inspections on holdings are possible on occasions and some special effort often can be made at shearing; but in a few hours at an established saleyards one can see sheep from as many different holdings as one could visit at shearing in a week or more of concentrated effort; so seldom possible because of interruption by some urgent matter such as a stock mortality.

In the article to which reference already has been made, some emphasis was placed on such aspects of inspections as clothing, brief notes of pennings and rational catching.

That the Inspector should be suitably clad is of considerable importance, and the saleyards clothing should include gumboots and waterproofs. The writer prefers separate waterproof coat (short) and trousers to the more usual long waterproof coat; the former being considered to afford much greater freedom of movement. Perhaps there is nothing more discouraging than the prospect of even 5,000 sheep in a saleyards on a cold, wet day, but, nevertheless, it is fatal to control if it becomes known that the Inspector will not be on the job if the weather is bad. An equal number of sheep in a dusty yard under a blazing sun may be equally discouraging, as a matter of fact, but for adequate control regularity of attendance should be the objective at all times. Quite serious mortalities in stock will be reported from time to time somewhere in the district on saledays, of course; and some at least of these will reauire immediate attention. Such is inevitable, but it is submitted that any absence from a regular sale should be in the category of the absolutely unavoidable; rather than that any other job is more important than the saleyards inspections.

Not that there can be anything really attractive about saleyards work, even in the best conditions; any more than there can be about any work so largely mere routine. Too often, in fact, the mere routine degenerates into dull drudgery; but apart from an appreciation of the need for control and the satisfaction of doing any job even reasonably well, there is another major angle to consider in attending saleyards regularly, repeat regularly. Any major saleyards in any district is the pulse of that district. All roads lead there as inevitably as to Rome, and nowhere can one obtain a better feeling of what is happening in the stock world; not only in that particular area but also and especially at a large and well-known selling centre, often for hundreds of miles in any direction. Then, too, it very soon becomes widely known that the Inspector can be found at the saleyards, which equally soon become the readiest avenue for the extension work which also is so important. There are times, of course, in a day with a big yarding, or more than the average number of infestations, when interruptions from all and sundry with this, that and the other problem are far from welcome; but that does not alter the fact that the saleyards provide the common meeting ground which is so essential, and affords the opportunities for much good work which is as far removed as the poles from the actual examination of sheep.

So far as this actual examination is concerned it is considered that the requirements fall easily under three main headings:—Knowing what has been inspected and what to inspect; Knowing how to examine a sheep effectively; and, Dealing with an infestation when it is found.

At practically all yards there is a regular selling plan. The agent or agents start at one particular pen and then work through the pennings more or less, at any rate, according to an established custom, The Inspector, who for efficiency in the often limited time at his disposal must reduce his work to essentials, well might follow that same track through the pens. Firstly, though, a start usually must be made before drafting and penning has been completed by the agents. This means that there will be some, perhaps quite a lot, of sheep movement behind the Inspector. Agents often find it necessary to be drafting and penning right up to the start of the sale; apart from which there often is a change of mind as to the most suitable pen for a particular mob; while movement deliberately to avoid inspection is not completely unknown. Except for a particular reason, though, examinations should take place only in the pens in which sheep normally are placed for sale; not behind the drafting race or in yards in which sheep may be held prior to penning. It is hoped that the reason for this suggestion can be made clear later.

To ensure that on this plan every pen of sheep is examined it is essential, as Hildred (ibid.) has recommended, that a brief note, which will be altered or added to each time round the yards that day, be made of each pen; to indicate whether it is empty, or to identify the particular sheep examined. So far as is known after several years' experience of at least two major saleyards per week there is not any easy way of carrying out these inspections. Almost without exception every pen must be entered and two or three sheep caught and examined in each. The only exceptions, perhaps, are those pens containing a brand or earmark which identifies sheep so well known to the Inspector that he knows the particular flock is clean. Shorn sheep are not exempt, as both lice and ked have been found on sheep carrying every possible stage of wool growth. Relying on an "over the fence" inspection to determine the likely offenders will not do. Many quite heavy ked infestations are found on sheep with a perfectly normal "external" appearance; and while a pulling of the wool may indicate a lice infestation, such an appearance may be due equally to the effects of burrs, briars, blackberries, thistles and/or gradd-seed. The more experience one has the more one is convinced that if external appearance is relied upon at least 80% of infestations will be missed.

Although each pen must be noted, and often three or four times, such notation must of necessity be brief; often almost hieroglyphic. With even a moderate yarding time often is the essence of the contract, and without any assistance making notes takes time. If brands are discernible, then the job is easy, but "f.w.m.ws.." for instance, can indicate "full woolled merino wethers" and does not take long to write. Crossbred lambs, which often are yarded in some profusion by numerous owners on the one day, admittedly present some difficulty. However, if the pen cannot be identified by the breed showing predominantly in the "cross" (e.g. Border Leicester, Dorset Horn, Southdown and Shropshire crosses often are easily distinguishable), then a notation defining the earmark has been found to be sufficient. The letters "c., t., f. and b." indicate "centre, tip, front and back;" and a note such as "c. & t. x. lbs." against a pen number would show that pen holding crossbred lambs with a combined centre and tip mark; or "2 f.x.lbs." show crossbred lambs with a double mark in the front of the ear. Of course not foolproof, as there may be several owners at one sale with, for instance, a double front mark; but it does reduce the margin for error and leaves a workable basis. Again, a numbered pen may be subdivided, either permanently or temporarily; but "10 N W," for example, indicates the North-western section of the pen No. 10 quite quickly.

Catching the sheep is most important since the Inspector almost invariably will be under the eye of more than one critical and experienced sheepowner; and a fairly long experience has confirmed Frank Hildred's opinion of the best method. The method adopted should be the one found to be easiest on the sheep, and on the inspector, but catching by the wool should be avoided in all circumstances; and more especially, of course, in handling fat lambs. Since time often is so important a great deal of time cannot be spent in one pen. Although not by any means imperative it is preferable to keep well ahead of the auctioneer; which usually- means that one must endeavour to carry out an effective examination while catching not more than two or three sheep in each pen, which again means that the Inspector must become expert in selecting quickly the sheep most likely to be infested, if any. That one can become expert in this respect is shown by the frequency with which, when only one or two sheep in a pen are infested, one at least of those sheep is in the first two caught. Both lice and ked apparently prefer the more open type of fleece and, with this as a rough guide, in the average small lines penned as a rule at saleyards in the "inside" country it usually is possible to select the first sheep while going over the fence. Not so easy, of course, with the very much larger lines; but with these more time can be spent and more sheep caught—without increasing appreciably the aggregate number of sheep handled for the day. The pen that does take the time is the one in which just a suggestion of an infestation is found; say one or two lice or ked or pupae on three sheep. Then it is necessary to search further, perhaps eight or ten per cent. of the pen, to determine whether the parasites seen are strays or really part of an infestation. Just as great a hindrance to smooth working is the pen full of mixed brands or marks; of which one should get at least a sample of each.

Having caught the sheep correctly and got it on its rump, if the head is pulled back and held between the knees the area from the throat to the brisket, and in which the ked more commonly is found, is exposed fully. Use as many fingers and thumbs of both hands as are necessary to open the fleece fully and widely and right in to the skin. Fumbling with partly opened wool gets very poor results except with really heavy infestations. Having finished with the neck, the sheep is inclined to first one side and then the other so that the area along the ribs and flank can be searched; more especially for lice. In these positions the head still is held between the knees, or thereabouts, with one leg of the operator behind the withers and the other supporting the shoulder opposite the side being examined. The sheep should be as nearly recumbent as is necessary to permit the skin being seen quite easily when the fleece is opened.

Every infestation detected is followed by some action, though not necessarily legal action. There can be a vast difference in degree of infestation, of course; but apart from that difference there are circumstances which can make infestations of equal degree very different in significance. For instance, while a very light infestation in prime sheep obviously destined for early slaughter may be regarded as of little importance (except, perhaps, as indicating a heavier infestation elsewhere on the property of origin), an equally light infestation in store sheep would be much more serious. If passed, then stores may be purchased in good faith by an owner who may hold them for some months before shearing; to be confronted then by a very appreciable infestation. Or, as often happens, the very lightly infested stock may pass through the hands of several dealers, and over a considerable area of country, until such time as the infestation developed sufficiently to attract attention; with conseouent very considerable bother for, perhaps, several Inspectors in the area, who will be involved in tracing the mob.

Whatever action is contemplated with any particular infestation, it is submitted that the first course should be to mark, and mark very clearly, two or three of the more heavily infested sheep in the pen. Any such marking must be with authority if trouble is to be avoided, and the authority in this case is Regulation 75 under the Stock Diseases Act, 1923-34. A coloured stock-marking pencil of a grease type in a metal container will be found convenient, and the D is applied by the writer so that it includes half the head; the vertical stroke running the full length of the face from poll to nostrils, and the loop taking in the whole of the left side of the face. This mark serves several useful purposes—it becomes recognised by the yardmen, auctioneers and agents as a bar to any further handling of that mob without approval; it very frequently gets the owner looking for the Inspector (and that saves a lot of valuable time); and it lets all and sundry know, quite often to the discomfiture of the offending owner, that some action is being taken with infested stock at those yards.

When commencing work at any saleyards an early aim should be to let all the agents concerned know quite clearly that any consignment which has been marked as infested must not be dealt with in any way thereafter without approval. In the early stages deal with each mob separately and make a request as to what is required in regard to handling until full particulars of the consignment are known; if these cannot be supplied on the spot. If necessary make the request an instruction; and if it appears that the latter might not suffice, serve a Detention Order. If the requirements of any instruction are not complied with make it a rule to press, and press hard, for the strongest possible legal action. The sooner the exact significance of the Inspector's mark on infested sheep becomes recognised the easier it will be for all concerned, and the easier an arduous job will become. Remember, though, that while the Stock Diseases Act gives the Inspector what is by far the bigger end of the stick, there very seldom indeed is any need to use it as a club.

Apart from the latitude which is given from time to time with regard to the disposal of infested sheep for immediate slaughter, the normal action consists of either immediate dipping or return to the property of origin, or some other approved place, for quarantine pending dipping. Where there is a dip available at all times at the saleyards or in the immediate vicinity, the procedure at those yards usually is reduced to something quite simple. That weather conditions are of little significance if the sheep are reasonably strong is shown by the fact that at Orange it has become a regular practice to dip at all times of the year, and at any stage of wool growth; and with practically complete safety. A popular fallacy, of course, but it is not the dipping mixture which stains wool; it is the filth which so often is allowed to contaminate the dip. Needless to say, though, that any "out of season" dipping must be with the consent of the owner; there always is the alternative of taking the sheep home. If such is preferred, quarantine should be effected on the spot, if practicable, and in any case an Order for Movement issued.

Whatever action may be taken with the infested sheep found at the yards the job of control is only half done unless those sheep are followed right back to their origin, and appropriate action taken to ensure that the property ceases to serve as a distributing point. Admittedly very often a tedious job; and often a real headache, incapable of practical solution, in the case in which a dealer turns up, as happens not infrequently, with a comparatively small lot comprising the tail ends of about fourteen mobs which have gone through his hands. Nevertheless, it is submitted that every mob which can be traced should be; if only for the fact that the enquiries en route serve as a rule to let numerous agents and owners know that a real effort is being made, and that infestations are being treated with the seriousness which they deserve.

The necessity for tracing each infestation means that full particulars concerning each infested mob must be obtained. Easy enough when the consignment has come to the yards direct from the home property, and the owner is present; but very often much more difficult with the mob which has been bought elsewhere, the owner is hundreds of miles away, and the information which the agent has is not altogether explicit. The line of attack which has been found to be most satisfactory consists of treating every infestation as a possible case for prosecution and framing the questions with that end in view. If subsequently it is found that prosecution is not warranted, then at least full information has been obtained to facilitate tracing of the mob. On the other hand, if prosecution is not kept in mind right from the start, and then later information indicates that legal action is warranted, one may find that necessary evidence, which may have been obtainable easily earlier, is not so readily available.

Personal experience with agents at various saleyards has been a generally happy one, but in any case it should be realised at the outset that the agent's first consideration is for his client, however co-operative he may desire to be. Don't expect any man to volunteer any information, much less information which may incriminate him or one whom he represents. Certain information must be obtained, so certain questions must be asked; and the only information which can be expected is a relevant answer to the question asked. Here again it has been found that a firm attitude right at the commencement in any District will pay good dividends. If questions are being evaded, apparently deliberately, simply explain what will happen if legitimate questions are not answered, and then if necessary serve a notice under Section 7 (b) of the Stock Diseases Act; and be prepared to recommend prosecution for failure to comply with that notice if the information still is not forthcoming. This is important; or, in other words, never issue an order unless absolutely necessary and not then unless prepared to enforce it to the limit.

Having identified the infested sheep by recording all visible brands, or earmarks when the more satisfying brands are not discernible, then (or later, according to circumstances) interview the chief yardman for the agent concerned and/or the agent himself or an active principal in the case of a firm of agents. Ask if the sheep in pen number so-and-so are being handled by him or his firm; who is the owner; who received instructions to sell them; how were those instructions received; did he (the yardman or agent) draft those sheep for sale. This, then, is the reason why, except in special circumstances, sheep are never examined except in the pens in which sheep normally are sold. Following the finding of an infestation in the drafting yards the knowledgeable owner can be, and has been, found not guilty on a charge of attempting to sell; but when the sheep are placed in the selling pens they normally are entered in the agent's sale book or yardman's rough notebook, and from that point it is submitted that any defendant must have extreme difficulty in escaping a charge of attempting to sell; providing that the agent has admitted having received some selling instructions.

Ninety-nine, of every hundred defendants in these cases plead guilty, but the writer is not one who can entertain the contention that sheep are not offered for sale, or an attempt made to sell them, until the auctioneer actually enters the pen and offers the lot. It is submitted, incidentally, that a charge under Section 20 (c) of "attempting to sell" is much to be preferred to one under the same Section of "offering for sale;" and that in the circumstances outlined a charge under the former heading must succeed, as at that point the owner has done all he need do, or can do, to have an attempt made in due course to sell. The only defence can be a change of mind and it is anticipated that it would be held too late for a change of mind after the Inspector has detected the infestation and marked the sheep.

After questioning, for preference, both the agent and his yardman (then) the owner is interviewed at the yards, if he is there, or otherwise at the first opportunity. Ask does he own the sheep in pen No. —, or did he send sheep to the — yards for sale on the particular day; did he give any instructions concerning selling; to whom were those instructions given; did he know the sheep were infested; how long had he owned those sheep: if purchased, when, where and from whom; how were the sheep moved to the saleyards; did he engage the drover or transport; if not, who did—and on whose instructions. It is contended that these questions not only will complete the chain of evidence for "attempting to sell," but also will provide evidence to support a charge for causing infested sheep to be transported or driven, etc. (Section 20 [1]). if the latter should in certain circumstances be considered preferable.

It is feared that much of this article, which has succeeded in being much more lengthy than was intended, cannot be other than boring to the more experienced Inspector, but if any Inspector can find it even of some assistance it will be worth the writing. The intention, though, was not by any means to show that the ultimate aim of inspections at saleyards is prosecution; merely to show that such inspections are well worth while from the point of view of general control, that as such they must be conducted regularly and thoroughly, and that if prosecution is necessary then that, too, should be tackled systematically on a definite plan.


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