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by June M. Reed


First, if you positively don't want to expose your sheep to OPP at shows, don't show! Many of us recognize that, just as youngsters pick up colds and flu more frequently when attending school, showing sheep increases the likelihood of importing not just OPP, but several other "bugs" into the home flock. However, if you are going to show, you might consider taking some simple steps that will help achieve "acceptable risk", or help minimize the chances of horizontal transmission of OPP between sheep. Horizontal, or contact transmission, can occur in closely confined sheep. It can occur when respiratory droplets from infected sheep directly contact uninfected sheep or contaminate feed and water sources.

Three things a show shepherd can do then, to achieve “acceptable risk” are to:

  • Use your own buckets and tubs to feed and water your stock; don’t share or commingle your kit with someone else’s.
  • Minimize nose-to-nose contact between your stock and other sheep. This would seem very difficult to do. Perhaps in some situations employing solid panels between pens would be feasible; in other situations, it may not. Avoiding nose-to-nose contact might be easier in an off-the-truck event where a show animal’s exposure to other sheep is minimal compared to closely confined sheep occupying a warm, humid barn for several days. Don’t permit your sheep to stand around idly at the end of a halter and lead, sniffing noses with other sheep, while you, at the other end of the lead, are visiting breeders, customers, or whomever.
  • Whenever feasible, transport your own animals to and from shows and sales. Transporting your sheep along with someone else’s sheep is placing your animals in a close confined situation with animals whose OPP status may be unknown.

Show managers can also take steps to assist the show shepherd in the process of acceptable risk. Beginning with the obvious, show management owes it to its exhibitors to read the Health Certificates, and check ear tags on all sheep as they arrive and before they are penned. Sick, coughing, badly stressed animals should be penned away from exposure to other sheep and treated symptomatically or sent home. To accept and house sick animals with healthy sheep at a show or sale abdicates show management's responsibility to all exhibitors and consignees.

Show management could take other steps in moving toward a goal of minimizing risk of OPP transmission. To show or transport a horse in the U.S., an owner must be able to prove his animal possesses a "Negative Coggins" that year. The Coggins test identifies the lentivirus which causes Equine Infections Anemia (EIA) in horses, which is related to OPP. Most horses get tested before the start of the show season and carry their Coggins around with them beside their health certificates. Show management could require sheep owners to demonstrate a Negative OPP test along with the sheep health certificate. This policy would not guarantee the absence of OPP-infected sheep, but would most certainly, achieve "acceptable risk.”

While it may be overly optimistic to hope that negative OPP tests will soon be required of show sheep*, might it be feasible to pen Negative tested sheep away from untested sheep? Show management can certainly help by providing sheep housing which is airy and ventilated, in pens with solid panels to help discourage nose-to-nose contact. It should be kept in mind, however, that in some instances, solid panels in pens may adversely affect adequate ventilation.

Another show option would be to allow more events to be off-the-truck, at the owner's discretion. Giving the shepherd the option of keeping his sheep out of pens would help to decrease exposure to OPP, as well as other diseases.

When show sheep are “mouthed” by the Judge to evaluate bite, a policy can be established to disinfect hands quickly and quietly between sheep.

Show shepherds need to make their wishes known to management, who in turn, can make their goal the providing of an environment suitable for showing sheep in an atmosphere of “acceptable risk.”

Copyright © 1993, June M. Reed

*UPDATE:   In early 2009, the Texel Sheep Breeders Society became the first breed association in the U.S. to require documented OPP test-negative status for all animals entered in their National Show and Sale. See our 2004 newsletter for further information. 



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