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Comments on the dilemma in the June issue: ‘A stitch in time . . .’
  1. Manuel Magalhães-Sant'Ana
  1. Dublin, Ireland

Abstract

The dilemma in the June issue of In Practice concerned a number of ewes with inexpertly stitched vulvas. The client at a large sheep farm had called about difficult lambings, but while there you noticed that in some cases the ewes' sutures had ripped through the tissue (In Practice, June 2014, volume 36, pages 310-311). Paul Roger suggested that the best way forward might be to first consider how avoidable the situation was and whether the corrective action taken by the farmer was at all in the best interest of the ewes. He proposed that if the Bühner method hadn't been used, along with anaesthetic, analgesia, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics, then the client would need to be educated. It should be stressed that such action could be interpreted as inflicting unnecessary suffering and an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006; the farmer should also be encouraged to use veterinary services more often to help plan strategies to prevent similar incidents in the future.

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A SHEEP farmer taking a prolapse into his own hands is not uncommon and the ethical implications of the case were clearly addressed by Paul Roger.

Still, two underlying questions remain unanswered: why is it that sheep farmers tend to avoid veterinary assistance? And what can be done to prevent it? A recent qualitative study sheds some light on the first question. British sheep farmers report vets' lack of expertise and interpersonal trust, together with inconsistency of the service provided, as reasons deterring them from calling vets out more frequently (Kaler and Green 2013). These claims should make the veterinary profession reflect on how to provide better assistance to farmers before the role of vets in flock health and welfare management becomes irrelevant.

Likewise, as long as at least some husbandry mutilations can be performed by farmers without surveillance (or even anaesthesia, as is the case for younger lambs) in the UK (and in most of Europe), the door is open for farmers to perform other procedures, such as stitching a prolapse. These issues require a combined approach that might help effectively address the second question of what can be done to make farmers less avoidant. Measures that promote trustful working partnerships between farmers and vets, and also improve sheep health and welfare, should be sought. This should include looking at experiences from other jurisdictions, such as the anaesthesia delegation model used in Switzerland [Alsaaod and others 2014]).

Finally, farm vets should be able to help farmers with flock records by keeping track of every intervention made and by promoting more effective surveillance schemes. Only then can we expect farmers to call the vet more often.

Have you faced a dilemma that you would like considered in a future instalment of Everyday Ethics? If so, e-mail a brief outline to inpractice{at}bva-edit.co.uk. We pay a small honorarium for contributions that are published.

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