28 April 1995

Footrot has a low priority on too many sheep units

By Michael Gaisford

FOOTROT is still being swept under the carpet by too many shepherds and their vets.

Speaking at last weeks verterinary conference at the Royal Society, London, on lameness in horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry, David Henderson, head of clinical studies at the Moredun Research Institute, Edinburgh, said footrot control was not what it should be on many UK farms.

"Both farmers and vets are simply not putting into practice what we do know about how to control this highly infectious disease," said Mr Henderson.

He highlighted four main ways of dealing with the two bacteria which cause footrot in sheep:

lCareful routine foot paring.

lRegular use of a footbath with zinc sulphate.

lAntibiotic treatment of badly infected sheep.

lFlock vaccination.

Discussing the use of footbaths, Mr Henderson stressed the need for walking sheep through them slowly, to give plenty of time for the chemical to kill the bacteria. He strongly advised the use of zinc sulphate to other chemicals like formalin, which does not work well in the presence of organic matter.

"In fact, I think formalin should be banned as a foot treatment for sheep," said Mr Henderson.

He said antibiotics should be used on a much wider scale for sheep suffering with virulent footrot. "The cure rates will astound you," he commented.

At the meeting he called for vets to take a bigger interest in this disease and for an awareness and educational campaign about footrot to be mounted.

Mr Henderson also proposed that there should be "footrot-free zones" in sheep markets, which are one of the main ways that the disease organisms are spread from farm to farm.

&#8226 Speaking about foot problems in cattle at the meeting, Gloucester vet Roger Blowey advised the use of straw yards for dairy cows around calving time when horn growth of the foot was at its lowest level. On the pig front, Prof Richard Penny said that rough concrete floors and slats were one of the main reasons why 48,000 sows a year are culled due to foot and leg problems.

"Footrot-free zones in markets would help control spread of the infection," says David Henderson (inset) head of clinical studies at Moredun.