A survey of the isolation rate and population size of thermophilic campylobacters in lambs at slaughter was carried out to determine the seasonal variation of thermophilic campylobacters in ovine hosts. Isolation rates determined by enrichment methods were always higher than those using direct plating onto selective agar and showed that Campylobacter could be isolated from 91·7% (n = 360) of samples from the small intestine of the lambs. Enumerations (MPN), done monthly over a 2-year period, averaged 4·00 log 10 (n = 1080, S.D. 0·16) campylobacters g−1 fresh weight (fw) intestinal contents with some samples giving values higher than 7 log MPN gfw−1. These results show that the prevalence of thermophilic campylobacters in sheep intended for slaughter is much higher than previously reported. Statistical analyses showed that there was a significant seasonal periodicity in the Campylobacter populations in the small intestines of lambs at slaughter (P = 0·004) but that there was no statistical relationship with environmental parameters such as minimum and maximum temperature, rainfall or hours of sunshine. In an analysis along the length of the intestinal tract of lambs, campylobacters were isolated from 80% of small intestine and 30% of rumen samples, but not from the true stomach, large intestine or caecal samples. A survey of sheep grazing on salt marsh, fell (upland) and farm pasture showed that the isolation rate of thermophilic campylobacters in fresh faeces was substantially lower (29·3% (n = 420)) than that from the small intestine of lambs at slaughter. No significant difference (>0·05) was found between the isolation rate of campylobacters from faeces sampled in late spring/early summer and autumn, nor between the different types of grazing.
Present address: Department of Life Sciences, University of East London, London, UK.