Learning about Agriculture: 3. Lambs prancing in the fields.

Sheep are as much of a symbol of Wales as the dragon on our flag and so in this blog I’m going to be looking at all things sheep. Here we go.

Selective breeding is commonly used in agriculture to increase profitability, and sheep are no exception. Advantageous traits can be identified in parents so that these traits can be passes down to offspring, which will aid profitability and improve herd health. These traits are identified through EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values) for rams, and Body Condition Scores (BCS) for ewes. EBVs are used to predict the breeding outcome for that particular ram, for example the EBV for fat depth is an indicator of whether the carcase will likely be lean. These however, are not the only factors that are used – the others being physical characteristics checked through the 5T’s – check toes, teeth, testicles, tone (BCS), and teat.  For ewes, BCS is the only method used and a score between 1 (thin) to 5 (fat) is given to each individual ewe and requires no specialized equipment or history unlike the EBVs which require CT scans. It looks quite easy to do but I can imagine it would take a while to differentiate between the five stages.  You just place your hand on the back of the sheep and feel for the transverse and spinous processes – if the ‘backbone’ feels rounded and the bone on either side is detected with hard pressure then there is plenty of muscle and good fat covering, which would give a value of 3.  This value however, is dependent on the type of grazing, with hill ewes requiring a target of 2.5 as compared to lowland ewes with 3.5 and should be maintained for a month before tupping (mating)[i].

Maybe it’s just me, and that I don’t know anything about pregnancy, but I feel like farmers have got this pregnancy stuff down. The ADHB Better Returns Program has detailed guidance on each stage including a calendar on when everything happens. Its so good that I feel like I could give it a go and not completely mess it up. Some of the things mentioned are common sense, like to reduce stress for a month after tupping to allow attachment of the embryo, but others require knowledge of crops.

Physiological systems are designed to metabolize and convert chemicals, and as a student of pharmacy, we study how some compounds/drugs can be effective at treating a disease. Not all drugs are effective and so their structure is modified to aid its effectiveness within the body. For example, aspirin is a prodrug, a modified version of salicylic acid, which is the painkiller. As a drug salicylic acid has a serious side effect in that it causes gastric irritation. So, aspirin enters your system, and is metabolized to the useful compound, and your stomach thanks you for it. Clover is both advantageous for land management as it is a legume – plants which undergo nitrogen fixation, reducing the need for expensive artificial fertilizers; and a good source of protein for grazing animals. Red clover contains the phytoestrogen Formononetin which has no oestrogenic activity, but after rumic metabolism it is converted to equol. Equol is an oestrogen agonist meaning that it is able to bind to oestrogen receptors, mimicking its action. Oestrogen receptors are found in a multitude of organs in the body, which explains its anabolic effect which is beneficial in stimulating muscle growth. However, depending on lengths of grazing, it can cause infertility, which may be permanent in ewes. Reduced conception rates are due to changes in the cervix such as reduced viscosity of the cervical mucus, but of those that carry, it can result in conditions such as a prolapsed uterus[ii].

Like humans, sheep undergo ultrasound scans to determine pregnancy, which normally occurs at around 80-100 days post-tupping, and allows a series of decisions to be made regarding both farm management and animal welfare. Dry sheep (those not carrying lambs) can be sold, those with multiple births given more feed.  It can also help detect problems on the farm, for example if there are considerable losses between scanning and birth then ewes may be diseased and an investigation needs to be made.

With 75% of foetal growth occurring in late pregnancy diet changes need to be implemented to accommodate the ewe’s increased nutrient requirements[iii]. These changes include an increase in protein intake and increased calcium which is needed for both lamb skeletal formation and milk.

I have never been involved in the lambing season but I do know from other family member that have sheep that it can be a stressful time, with the need to be up and ‘on call’ so to say to aid with difficult deliveries and to make sure that newborns feed properly.  With the average flock size in Wales 362 for breeding ewes, it equates to quite a few deliveries[iv].

As cute as lambs are, they have high mortality rates at around 15% with 49% of lamb losses occur in the first 48 hours of birth[v]and so targeting each cause of mortality can reduce lambing mortality.  Each of these factors, which can be approached individually play an interconnected role in lamb welfare. For example, maternal body mass is a key indicator of lamb birth weight; and a low birth weight would mean that the lambs are weaker and so unable to suckle on the colostrum, leading to a reduction in both energy intake and immunity compared to those of higher birth weights[vi].

Lambs initially feed on colostrum (first milk produced by ewe) and this milk allows for passive immunity due to its high content of maternal immunoglobulin. It was found that pre-lambing vaccinations reduced lambing mortality[vii]and it would be interesting to see the Ig concentrations found in colostrum of vaccinated ewes vs those unvaccinated. Research for another day, or for my MPharm project perhaps?

Lambs can be reared by other dams in cases where the lamb is rejected, orphaned, or the dam is unable to feed the lamb itself which leads to other rearing sources. If a dam has multiple births, one of the lambs may be transferred to a dam which has lost its lamb, which allows for mutual beneficiality – the dam does not suffer the loss of a lamb and the adopted lamb gains sufficient colostrum without competition. Artificial rearing is also an option, where they are fed on milk replacers which is a powder which is usually whey based and fortified with vitamins, that is mixed with water.

There are various finishing systems (increasing muscle mass ready for slaughter) for lambs including forage only, and forage with concentrate supplementation.  The change in diet should be gradually introduced, especially if the new diet consists of high amounts of carbohydrates. This is due to the possibility of rumen acidosis. This occurs when large amounts of carbohydrates are rapidly fermented causing a reduction in rumen pH, which a favourable environment for the growth of the Lactobacillus bacteria, which produced lactic acid and further reduces pH. This Lactobacillus favourable environment is less than ideal for the survival of other microbes causing them to die. The lactic acid causes water movement into the rumen resulting in dehydration[viii].

Feed management is also related to other major health concerns of sheep – the most common being Parasitic gastro-enteritis (PGE) which is an infection of worms in the digestive system, which is a significant cause of death among lambs. To reduce infection rates, grazing management strategies are implemented, setting lambs to pasture on different fields from years to year, or rotating between sheep and cattle on the pasture[ix]. However, if an infection is detected then anthelminthics are used, of which there are five groups: 1-BZ, 2-LV, 3-ML, 4-AD, and 5-SI. Group 1 is used as both a treatment and as a control measure through drenching lambs[x]but there is also growing resistance to this category along with group 2&3 due to its widespread use. This is an oral method of liquid administration where the dose is ‘injected’ into the throat of the lamb – rather like use of syringes that come with Calpol bottles these days, only larger. Even though this is only the third blog in the agriculture series I’ve come across so many different formulations available for livestock so I’m hoping to look into these in more depth in a subsequent blog.

The average sheep produces 2kg of wool annually[xi], which is sheared by an experienced team between May and July. Most sheep breeds naturally shed their wool as the weather warms, which leads one to have a slight panic in their newly-awoken haze as they open their curtains and think ‘its snowed’ only to remember that its those effing sheep at it again. Leaving little tufts of white wool all over the fields and leaving them looking scraggly with bits of wool half hanging off their forms, looking like they’ve just been in a fight. Shearing reduces external parasitic infections and of hyperthermia in the summer. The wool is packed and sent away to be categorized into seven main groups, which arise from different breeds. These categories indicate the price the farmers gets for the fleece. I remember going to my uncle’s farm when it was shearing day and I must say, even though it looked like a high stress environment and quite physically demanding I’d quite like to try my hand at packing (not shearing, obviously, as I don’t know how and am not strong enough.  I’d end up getting kicked in the face).

Another blog down, and poorly made (its exam season after all) but its given me an opening to learn more about sheep.  Even though I try to get a little detail in, it’s difficult in the time frame and what detail I do squeeze out of publications it ends up being about diseases. Once a pharmacist, always a pharmacist.

[i]AHDB. 2019. Managing ewes for Better Returns (Sheep Manual 4).

[ii]Reed, K. 2016. Fertility of herbivores consuming phytoestrogen-containing Medicago and Trifolium species. Agriculture, 6(3)35. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture6030035

[iii]TEAGASC. 2017. Ewe nutrition in late pregnancy.

[iv]Armstrong,E. 2016. Research briefing the farming sector in wales. National Assembly for Wales.

[v]Simcock,E. 2019. Lambing part 4 Ensuring survival of newborn lambs. NADIS

[vi]Ahmad et al. 2000. The level of immunoglobulins in relation to neonatal lamb mortality in Pak-karakul sheep. Veterinarski Arhiv, 70(3) 129-139

[vii]Phythian et al. 2020. Mortality, morbidity, and liveweight following multivalent clostridial and pasturela vaccination of lambs on six English commercial sheep flocks. Veterinary Evidence. 5(1).

[viii]Constable,P. 2015. Grain overload in ruminants. MSD Veterinary Manual.

[ix]McCarter,P. 2019. Gastrointestinal nematode infestations in sheep. NADIS

[x]McCarter,P. 2019. Gastrointestinal nematode infestations in sheep. NADIS

[xi]British wool. British wool facts – did you know?

Second year MPharm at Cardiff University

Even though it has been a whirlwind of a few months for everyone, I’ve managed to finish my second year studying pharmacy at Cardiff University. Yey! Following suit of last year, I’ve done a breakdown of the modules taught which will include any practicals and placements, and how the exams went.

  • Professional Development

This is a zero credit module the same as first year. We built on the mathematical skills from last year but it was a little more challenging as you had to teach it yourself (I had three different books to help me make sense of it all) but once you understand it, it’s not too bad. I do wish however, that other calculations would be included in the maths exam such as ones relating to ADME.

The other part of this module was placements, which I have discuss in a post from a couple of months ago but to summarise, the placements went down very well for the whole year, especially the chance to shadow a pharmacist working in a GP practice.

  • Clinical And Professional Pharmacy

I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. This module contains a large chunk of what I KNOW is very important stuff for a pharmacist to know but it’s also terribly boring – health & safety, pharmacy business, NHS regulations, and consumer law. Yawn.

The clinical side is where you start getting stuck into proper community pharmacy stuff – services available and how to consult on a MUR and EHC.  The only problem is that you don’t get much of a chance to do role play scenarios which are extremely useful or OSCEs. Therefore, I’d recommend getting into small groups and meet in the library to role play some scenarios that could come up in the OSCE.

You’ll still be doing POP (dispensing) but its focused towards legally and clinically checking prescriptions.  There are held by the brilliant teacher practitioners.  You’ll be split into groups within your workshop groups and you’ll have 15 minutes to legally and clinically check a prescription before feeding back to the group on any issues you found within the prescription. It can be a lot to get through in a short amount of time, but they are only small prescriptions, saying that, I have never seen a community pharmacist take 15 minutes per prescription to check, and so I’m hoping that in third & fourth year it will become more reflective of what actually happens. At the moment we’re heavily reliant on the BNF and EMC. This type of workshop reflects the ‘practical’ exam that you’ll have in the module but due to COVID-19 we only had a mock in this style.

Unfortunately this year we have no RTS workshops and so going into our mock OSCE was a bit daunting as we had no idea what to expect. All I can say is inhaler technique.

Providing Pharmaceutical Care (PPC) workshops are new to second year and are a chance to apply knowledge learned from other modules to real life settings. They’re held as a whole year group but are still very interactive with the teacher practitioners coming around and menti will obviously be used. You’ll be given a case/scenario and taught how to manage drugs and give advice on them, and use this in a different form each workshop e.g. a respiratory patient is admitted to hospital and so you must guess what’s wrong with them. It won’t be hard, you’re not medic or nursing student, so it’ll be something like an acute exacerbation of COPD (you’ll have the patient history not just a set of symptoms).  Then as they have been admitted to hospital, you’ll learn about hospital drug charts and how to read them and then formulate a care plan, something that will come up more in third year so I’m told.

What to expect in the exam – split MCQs full of questions about health psychology, and what’s included in the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974); and the second part containing sort answer questions based on cases seen in community pharmacy such as supply of EHC.

  • Diseases and Drugs 1

I’m not going to lie, this module is my favourite but also one of the cruellest. This year we covered some of the most common diseases of the human body which included: 

  • Asthma, COPD
  • Hypertension, high cholesterol, angina, stroke, arrhythmias, chronic heart failure.
  • Peptic ulcer disease, IBS & IBD, liver disease, oedema, constipation.
  • Diabetes, hormone hypo and hypersecretion, osteoporosis, glucocorticoids.
  • Urinary incontinence, contraception, HRT, male health.
  • Dry eye, conjunctivitis, glaucoma.
  • Hypersensitivity, vaccines.

You may think that it doesn’t seem like a lot, but in the beginning of the year we were given access to an excel spreadsheet which gave a list of over 100 drugs with columns to give indication, dose, adverse effects, contraindication, monitoring requirements, and counselling requirements.  We thought that we had to learn everything.

The COVID-19 pandemic does have its moments, and for me, that moment was during the online exam that we had. Split between MCQ and short answer questions based off case studies I felt prepared – if it was to be anything similar to the first year ‘Human Body Systems’ exam.  But oh no. There was one question on side effects, and that one being the obvious dry cough with ACE inhibitors, several on drugs used for liver disease (which I knew, thankfully) and more than I would like to count on pharmacology. Not nice pharmacology ones either, horrible nit-picky ones and oh, before I forget, two on Cystic Fibrosis…that we haven’t even been taught about (insert exasperated crying noises).

  • Formulation Science

In the series of practicals we start to make our own formulations but many of us seem completely and utterly lost. Sometimes, there is a ‘template’ you can use from previous Pharmacopoeia Monographs but when there isn’t, it becomes a little stressful a few days before the practical workshops where everyone is just adding random preservatives to their mix. There have been a few nice ones such as making calamine lotion in which I was tempted to sneak my phone out cause it was insta-worthy. By using what is called geometric dilution (a very calming process, I might add) I made a light pink mixture and it was just too cute. In the practical exam you will be expected to make two worksheets and then make one product which is doable in the time given but, it needs to be perfect. You can lose a lot of marks very quickly, like 15 marks for putting the wrong expiry date.

The MCQ exam was a little challenging but it would have been a lot worse without my notes. Why do I need to know what a supercritical fluid is? Sometimes in lectures they’ll add an example and tell you ‘it’s an example you don’t need to learn these values’ but they sneakily added them into the MCQs. You definitely need to know details for the module exam – you can’t get away with learning general concepts.

  • Design And Disposition

It covers a lot of last year’s stuff but in more detail. There’s still some organic chemistry that you need to know but it’s not too bad. ‘Human Drug Metabolism, an Introduction’ by Michael D. Coleman is a book worth dragging yourself to the library to get. You’ll be studying ADME again in second year and it has some really interesting chapters such as why drinking grapefruit is such a big deal and the effects of age on drug metabolism.

Last lecture of PH2112 we covered biologics. This particular lecturer’s research area was the use of natural compounds as drugs and said that marine organisms were a good source of antibacterial and anticancer drugs as it’s a competitive place to live in and so the organisms produce toxins to reduce competition.  He was looking into local sponges and found one in particular produced an antibiotic that was more potent than vancomycin, but he had yet to extract sufficient quantities of it to prove and publish – pretty cool right!  But it also made me think of home.  Menai Bridge on Anglesey is the home of Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences, nestled right by the Menai straits. We are always told how extraordinary the waters of the straits are, containing incredible species and so naturally I wondered if the department had looked into pharmacological uses, but alas, no.

The exam is tough and usually, I finish around an hour early in exams, but I barely managed to finish and had no time to look over my answers.  It covered pharmacokinetics and dynamic in detail which means that I’ll need to teach myself over the summer to properly catch up.

Overall it has been a tough year even though we have had fewer lectures and more workshops in order to apply what we’ve learned a lot more e.g. making error logs when checking prescriptions, inhaler techniques. I’m both excited and terrified of what is about to happen in third year.

The Rowing Club Journal: Novice Edition, 1

Starting my second year, I knew I wanted to try some form of sport.  I had been jogging before work during the summer holidays but the sun was rising later and I had no intention of jogging around the park in the dark.  I was keen to try my hand at a water related sport – either sailing or rowing, and since I didn’t manage to drag myself down to Cardiff Bay for the sailing GIAG, I stuck to rowing.  

Here is part 1 of my time as part of Cardiff University’s Rowing Club, Novice Women’s team.

Why Rowing?

It was all because of a book – ‘A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness. Diana Bishop, a professor at Oxford rows early in the morning (definitely not an Oxbridge stereotype) to release some pent up adrenaline and she found flow within the rhythmic strokes of the scull.  It was something that I desperately needed, a few minutes where my brain can switch off and I can breathe in the salt of the sea.

What’s training like?

I do not go to all training sessions – I’m not in this to win it and so I go to ERGs practice twice a week, a circuits session, and then once a week on the water (my favourite part).

The Diary Bit

I hadn’t really used an ERG before and the one time I did use it in school, no one told me how to use it.  They kind of just let us loose in the gym ‘cause they couldn’t be bothered to teach us anything. The first few sessions of ERG practice is just learning the technique.  Believe it or not, there is so much to think about and as you increase your rate you have to make sure that your technique is on point.

25/10 – Multiple 1000m, first one starting at rate of 26s/m, going up to 30s/m.  The best speed I had was a split of 2.15 (a split time is how long it takes you to row 500m) and I nearly died.  It just felt like it dragged and so as a result it felt draining instead of exhilarating.  I need to figure out a flow strategy where I go into my happy place and my body takes over using muscle memory.

02/11 – Water session was cancelled.  Why did I think it was a good idea to try and row in Wales?  The weather hates us here.

05/11 – Tuesday mornings are endurance sessions and I can’t believe my body can produce so much sweat. We had to do 15 mins at 20s/m, break for 3 mins, then do the same thing again. Three freaking times.

However, before starting we did an exercise where we had to push off from catch position and lift our backsides off the ERG while our partner moved the seat so we didn’t land on the bar part. It was weird and it was a hard bumpy landing but when I was doing the 15 min session I realised why we did the exercise – I really gets you to engage your muscles and push off with your legs instead of pulling with your arms/upper body.  It means that the only time you should be using your body weight is in the back position when you’re leaning back a little.

16/11 – Was finally allowed out on the water again, blame the weather. Slight problem though.  Previously, two seniors had been plonked in the back of each boat to help steer and get us going but this time, we had no seniors and a newbie cox. We were zigzagging our way along the Taff.

Since we’re only learning, we don’t row continuously, and instead in pairs so we can get used to the change from ERG to boat, and since for most of the time I’m just sitting quietly, I’ve been having problems with my hips while in the boat. Its like my hips freeze and lock and the pain lasts for about 2 days later (which is not good, I know).  We were about 10 minutes into the water session and I was in so much pain I was tempted to ask one of our coaches who rides along next to us in a speedboat to let me get out.  If you’re thinking about rowing but know that you have tight hips, you might want to join yoga aswell.

19/11 – Three sets of 2500m at rate of 20s/m and its only now, two months in, that I’ve finally got the hang of what they mean by intensity.   Each time I’m on the ERG I’m going the same number of strokes as everyone else but I’m always the last to finish. A higher intensity means that each stroke looks slower but you push off from the catch much quicker, using all your energy in the first section of the stroke.  It takes so much of your energy and I’m incredibly weak which makes it all the harder to increase my intensity.  I managed to complete the first 2500m alternating between a higher intensity and the very low intensity which is how I’m used to doing it. Its just so difficult and I feel like I’m sweating buckets while doing a poor job while everyone else is barely breaking a sweat and getting amazing split times.

7/12 – I signed up for sculling, what I thought was being in a wobbly boat by myself, hence why I tortured myself with putting in contacts cause I way no way risking falling in AND losing my glasses in the Taff river. I got to the boat house and turns out sculling is when you have two oars instead of one, and there were four of us the boat.  Panic over. Once you get used to the hand positions you can easily slip into a flow state and it feel so much more like rowing as compared to being in an 8 boat with one oar each.

Well, here it is, its finally the end of the term.

Its been an incredible experience for me to be out on the water and I’m slowly gaining confidence, hopefully enough so that I can complete next term.

Until next time.