Treating sheep lameness

Farmers should not delay treating lameness in heavily pregnant ewes, experts are warning.

According to vet Ruth Clements, identifying and treating all lame in-lamb ewes – and considering using foot-rot vaccination – should be a priority even at this stage of pregnancy.

“Although ewes are heavily in-lamb, don’t delay in having a real go at controlling lameness before lambing starts. It will prevent the continuing circle of foot-rot scald infection in ewes and lambs,” says Ms Clements, head of vet programmes at FAI Farms.

See also: Build your strategy to reduce sheep lameness

“Ideally, lameness should have been tackled in the autumn as part of the new national five-point plan to control foot problems, but ewes can still be treated effectively at this stage of pregnancy.”

While Ms Clements advises treating lame ewes without delay to arrest the “sheep-to-sheep” spread of bacteria, it’s essential to know exactly what’s causing the lameness – foot or scald or possibly a contagious ovine digital dermatitis (Codd) problem.

Identifying the cause of the lameness can be done by restraining the ewe and just turning up the feet for close inspection.

“Once the cause has been identified it’s equally important to use the correct antibiotic and at the correct dose according to the weight of the sheep being treated,” she adds.

Ms Clements says that where there are a high number of lame ewes, the best option is to vaccinate and to spray affected feet, but not to pare away any of the hoof.

“We know that trimming diseased feet isn’t helpful; if it’s foot-rot, the vaccination will be most effective, but problem feet can also be treated with antibiotic spray.”

See also: Sheep lameness explained

Ms Clements says the last thing any sheep farmer wants to see are young lambs hobbling through lameness.

“No one wants to be turning-out sheep with health problems so as well as treating the ewes pre-lambing it’s vital to have a strict biosecurity strategy to reduce the risk of spreading the disease at hand­ling, housing and in the field.

Lambing hygiene

“Lambing-pen hygiene is very important when pens have been used by lame ewes. Foot-rot and scald are bacterial conditions that are spread from foot to foot; they can persist in lambing pens and spread from ewe to ewe.

“Scald isn’t a specific disease lambs are prone to, it’s one that’s spread from ewes to newborn lambs.

“Use lime in handling areas, gateways and water troughs and think carefully about your handling set-up and how it could be improved to reduce the build-up of bacteria,” she says.

Ms Clements says repeat offenders should be separated and marked-up for culling after weaning.

“These ewes spread disease to other ewes and lambs; they are a big risk and a drain on margins even though they may appear to be productive.

“Lame ewes and those with chronic feet should be quarantined and housed separately. Even grazing them as a separate group should be considered,” she adds.

How each of the five points in the plan are relevant to in-lamb ewes

  • Cull – now is not the time of year to be culling out repeat offenders or ewes with chronic feet but it’s a good idea to separate out the worst of these ewes and make sure they are marked up for culling post-weaning. These ewes spread disease to other ewes and lambs – they are a big risk and cost money.
  • Quarantine – house lame ewes separately, particularly those with chronic feed. At pasture it could be worth doing the same.
  • Treat – treat clinical cases as soon as possible. The bacteria spread from sheep to sheep so the quicker they are treated the less chance of spread. Use the right dose and right antibiotic.
  • Avoid – avoid spreading disease at handling, housing and in the field. Have a strict lambing-pen hygiene routine and use lime in handling areas, gateways and water troughs. Think carefully about your handling set-up and how it could be improved to reduce the build-up of bacteria.
  • Vaccinate – it’s worth instigating a vaccination programme. It would help protect ewes now and into spring/summer with the aim of controlling foot-rot/scald so that it isn’t spread to lambs. If there is a significant problem, the vaccine could be repeated in four to six weeks or it could be used strategically on lame ewes to reduce the problem.