JUST as life was returning to normal after the summer bushfires, and COVID-19 appeared to be under control in SA, a disease, new to Kangaroo Island, is threatening lamb survival.
The first-ever cases of campylobacter have been confirmed in at least one flock on the island, a bacterial disease in sheep that causes abortions and still births.
AgKI chair Rick Morris was unfortunate to find it at his Karatta farm on the South Coast.
He said they first began to notice something was off at scanning, with one ewe aborting then.
"We thought it was due to the stress of yarding, never in a million years were we expecting this," he said.
"But then when I was out shifting mobs, I started to notice a few more - that's when the alarm bells started ringing.
"We were hoping it was just a nasty bacteria, but blood tests confirmed it as campylobacter."
Mr Morris said they immediately vaccinated and gave antibiotics to the flock with help from locals and BlazeAid, which he hopes will minimise the damage.
RELATED READING:BlazeAid reaches fencing milestone on KI
RELATED READING:Apiarists hopeful of better outlook
"The hardest part is having to remove aborted foetuses every morning to minimise the spread (about 300 lambs so far), which is just devastating," he said.
"Best case scenario for us is 20 per cent losses (normally lamb about 6000), but it can range up to 80pc loss - we just don't know until lambing starts proper next week."
Mr Morris encourages any other island producer to keep an eye out for possible outbreaks, to be able to get on top of the disease quickly.
He said it had put a dampener on what was their best-ever scanning results at 170pc for their composite ewes, while their ewes lambs scanned way beyond their previous best at 147pc (normally about 75pc).
"Having the ewes in confinement meant we could monitor weights a bit better, and manage them according to condition score and keep the hoggets separate, but it's also most likely this has been ideal for the disease to run rife through our naive flock," he said.
"But whether that caused the bacteria outbreak? Or whether it came in with donated hay from the mainland. We are not sure.
We don't want anyone else to have to go through this.
"Our ewe lambs are lambing later, so we will get them vaccinated twice as per the recommendation and hopefully they'll be fine.
"But we will now have to vaccinate our ewe lambs annually to stay on top of it."
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 10pc 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.
"Any surplus ewe lambs from our property this year will all be vaccinated and no threat to the buyer.
"But I want locals to be aware of it. We don't want anyone else to have to go through this."
- Start the day with all the big news in agriculture. Click here to sign up to receive our daily Stock Journal newsletter.