Is there something in the water? Identifying and addressing Cryptosporidium in sheep.

Cryptosporidium is a group of parasites which infect the gastrointestinal tracts of numerous species, including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, horses and deer, but can also have an impact on human health. Reducing the incidence of cryptosporidium in livestock can therefore have a twofold advantage, improving animal health and productivity and reducing contamination of the environment, leading to a reduction in human health risks.

There is a low level of understanding regarding the persistence, transmission routes, and management options of cryptosporidium in sheep. 

A group of seven farmers in Powys had identified cryptosporidium in calves and lambs on their farms and came together to work with their vets, Moredun and Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water in this project to increase their understanding of the pathways by which it is transmitted among sheep and also identify measures they could take to control the disease in their flocks.


Project Outcomes:

  • Cryptosporidium was found in most waterbodies entering and leaving all seven farms, it was found in water from two of the three boreholes tested too.
  • Cryptosporidium was detected in lambs on all but one farm. Lambs become less susceptible to disease the older they are but animals with previous exposure are not protected from re-infection.

The project increased farmers awareness and knowledge about cryptosporidium issues on farms, potential sources of infections as well as preventive measures that can be used to reduce both pathogen spread, incidence and production impacts. These included:

  • Steam cleaning buildings to kill oocysts
  • Frequent cleaning and disinfection of livestock sheds; research has found that 3% hydrogen peroxide and hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectants are the most effective at reducing the viability of cryptosporidium oocysts. Disinfectants are less effective on oocysts which are in faeces, therefore thorough cleaning of sheds is advised before disinfection.
  • Frequent bedding down with straw
  • Quarantining of scouring animals
  • Ensuring lambs and calves quickly receive adequate quantities of good quality colostrum