Maggots are a major health and welfare concern for sheep. As a result, sheep farmers are always looking for effective maggots in sheep treatment to protect their flocks. Fortunately, maggots in sheep are treatable in most cases.
So, how do you treat maggots in sheep?
Treat each affected sheep individually. Physically remove the maggots, clean and disinfect the wounds, apply insecticide dressing, and administer supportive medications — like antibiotics — as directed by your vet.
Before applying treatment, remove the wool around the affected area using shears or clippers.
In the following sections, we’ll discuss how to treat maggots in sheep in more detail.
We’ll also discuss the causes of maggots in sheep, how to spot maggots in sheep, as well as prevention and control. Read on.
What Causes Maggots in Sheep?
Maggots in sheep are caused by a disease known as flystrike. It’s one of the most common health issues affecting sheep. Flystrike occurs when parasitic flies lay eggs on the animal’s fleece, which hatch into maggots.
The newly hatched larvae start eating the sheep’s flesh, resulting in nasty sores. Under optimal conditions, the flies can lay up to 250 eggs on the sheep’s fleece. It takes about 12 hours for the eggs to hatch and attack the flesh.
The animal is essentially being eaten alive. Worse still, the maggots excrete toxins that cause skin and muscle damage.
These secretions can seep into the bloodstream, quickly making affected sheep sick. In severe cases, maggots in sheep can cause death.
What are the Risk Factors for Maggots in Sheep?
Flies can be a serious problem for sheep, so sheep farmers need to be prepared.
Those that cause flystrike thrive under warm, humid conditions. Therefore, areas that experience summer rainfall tend to have the highest case numbers.
The wet conditions can cause sheep fleece to rot, predisposing the animal to flystrike on the body.
That’s because fleece rot creates warm and moist conditions for the maggots to thrive. When it’s too hot or too dry, the eggs and larvae cannot survive.
All sheep breeds can be affected by flystrike. In most cases, flies target part of the body where fleece rot has occurred.
Some flies are attracted to sheep with soiled fleece and wounds. In these areas, the maggots can cause severe damage to the skin.
What are the Symptoms of Flystrike in Sheep?
Flystrike is not easy to notice in the early stages. Unless you inspect your flock regularly, you probably won’t spot flystrike and maggots until they are causing your sheep discomfort.
Here are the clinical symptoms of flystrike in sheep:
- Tail shaking and kicking of the hind limbs
- Affected sheep tend to isolate themselves from the flock
- Sheep seeking shade
- A putrid smell coming from the moist, rotten parts of the fleece — particularly around the feet, chest, and back end
- Sheep generally look unwell
- Skin lesions under the dirty, discoloured wool
- Maggots present under close examination
Again, detecting flystrike is difficult until the maggots are causing the sheep distress. That’s why experts recommend closely inspecting your sheep regularly for vital signs of flystrike.
The rule of thumb is to inspect your flock every two days during the flystrike season.
How Is Flystrike Diagnosed?
A visual inspection is all you need to confirm a flystrike diagnosis in sheep. If a close examination reveals maggots on the blackened skin under rotting, discoloured fleece, your sheep has flystrike. There’s an associated putrid smell of decaying tissue.
Maggots In Sheep Treatment
After confirming the diagnosis, you can now start treatment.
Remember that flystrike is incredibly painful for the animal, so you must start treatment as soon as you discover maggots on your sheep’s fleece. So, how do you treat maggots in sheep?
Maggots in sheep treatment is a painstaking process that involves physically removing the maggots from the affected sheep.
Here are five steps to help you treat maggot-infested sheep effectively.
1. Shear wool around affected areas.
If you don’t shear affected wool, you’ll miss some of the larvae, and the animal will remain struck.
Remove affected wool, making a 5 cm barrier of clean wool to spot all the maggots.
2. Put the maggot-infested wool in a plastic bag and leave it in the sun.
Maggots can’t survive in the sun. Leaving them for a couple of days kills them and breaks their lifecycle. Otherwise, they’ll pupate and come back as adult fliers.
3. Apply approved insecticide.
After shearing the affected sheep and removing the maggot-ridden fleece, you can apply flystrike dressing to the shorn areas.
Applying the dressing kills the remaining larvae and prevents re-strike.
4. Remove affected sheep from the flock.
Don’t leave affected sheep with the flock, as they can attract more parasitic flies.
Keeping them in a separate paddock is the safer option. Here, you can monitor their recovery while reducing the risk of spreading maggots to other sheep in the flock.
5. Remove affected sheep from breeding programs.
Predisposition to flystrike is hereditary and repeatable.
Sheep that repetitively get infected with flystrike after suitable management and chemical protection should be culled from the breeding programs to protect the rest of the flock.
Pay attention to the products you apply to the shorn areas of the affected sheep.
If maggots are still present, apply a product that kills the remaining maggots rapidly, as opposed to common flystrike preventatives (cyromazine and dicyclanil), as these take longer to kill maggots.
A dressing is intended to kill the remaining maggots and prevent recurrence at the same time. Therefore, these products need to be stronger than your regular preventative solution.
Products that contain organophosphates, spinosyn, or ivermectin are more effective as flystrike dressing.
How To Prevent Flystrike
They say prevention is better than cure, and this expression holds regarding maggots in sheep treatment.
Flystrike is unpleasant for the animal, and so is the treatment. If you care about your sheep, you should prioritize prevention.
Preventing maggots in sheep is also more economical than treatment.
The good news is flystrike is preventable with regular crutching and shearing, preventative chemical application, and breeding for flystrike resistance.
Crutching And Shearing
Crutching and shearing are valuable management tools that have proven quite effective at preventing flystrike and maggots in sheep.
Shearing reduces fleece length. Shorter wool dries faster, meaning it’s less likely to rot and attract parasitic flies.
Crutching removes ‘dags,’ or the wool between the sheep’s legs, tail, and back end.
This procedure prevents urine and wet manure from getting stuck around the sheep’s bottom, which can attract flies and cause maggots in sheep.
Preventative Chemical Treatment
Another effective way to reduce the risk of flystrike and resultant maggot infestation in sheep is preventative chemical application.
Sheep farmers can apply chemical treatments through commonly used methods such as hand-jetting or dipping.
The duration of protection will depend on the chemical used.
You also need to ensure that you apply the correct dosage for the animal’s weight when applying chemicals.
Chemical treatment may also prevent an infestation with sheep scabs and lice.
Breeding For Flystrike Resistance
Shearing, crutching, and strategic chemical application are short-term solutions to preventing flystrike. A more lasting solution is breeding for flystrike resistance.
That’s right; you can prevent flystrike and maggots in sheep using genetics.
Susceptibility to flystrike is genetic and repeatable. You can use genetic traits associated with flystrike — such as crutch cover and dags, breech wrinkle — to breed sheep with higher resistance to flystrike and maggot infestation.
FAQs About Maggots in Sheep Treatment
Here are the frequently asked questions regarding maggots in sheep treatment.
What causes maggots in sheep?
Maggots in sheep occur when parasitic flies lay eggs on the sheep’s fleece, and then these eggs hatch into larvae that feed on the sheep’s flesh. This infestation is known as flystrike.
Are maggots in sheep treatable?
Yes. Maggots in sheep are treated by physically removing the maggots and then applying insecticide dressing on the affected areas. Affected areas need to be shorn to apply flystrike dressing.
Can flystrike kill sheep?
Flystrike, which results in maggot infestation on a sheep’s fleece and skin, is a serious condition.
The maggots release enzymes that be absorbed into the bloodstream, causing various complications. If left untreated, flystrike can cause death.
Flystrike is a common sheep disease that causes the development of maggots on their skin and fleece. Luckily, effective maggots in sheep treatment can eliminate these dangerous parasites and restore the health of affected animals.