18 February 2000

Tackling lameness head-on

Recognising the cost of

lameness and treating the

most common causes

effectively were key topics

at a recent workshop.

James Garner reports

LAMENESS in sheep flocks not only costs money, typically £5 a ewe a year, but is also the biggest welfare issue for livestock producers.

In the publics eyes, lameness is top of the list for welfare related complaints to the ministry. This makes MAFF keen to help producers improve footcare, ADAS senior sheep specialist Kate Phillips told a MAFF/ADAS practical workshop on reducing the condition.

Mrs Phillips outlined the scale of the problem by detailing results of a Royal Vet College (RVC) survey. From the survey of 547 farms, results suggest there are over 3m lame sheep a year, over 1m of which would be caused by foot-rot.

When effects from foot-rot and scald were combined, the RVC survey said they accounted for 84% of lameness in the UK, said Mrs Phillips. It also outlined that 92% of surveyed farms had a problem with lameness, which affected 6-11% of their sheep.

That level of lameness would cause a serious loss of income, she said. "When 10% of sheep in a flock suffer from lameness, it costs £5 a ewe in lost income. In a typical Mule flock of 1000 ewes this is a considerable amount of money, which cannot afford to be lost."

Mrs Phillips added that scald in growing lambs could cost flockowners as much as £4 a lamb. "If twin 40kg lambs, which are normally slaughtered at 14 weeks old, caught scald within this period it would stop them growing for at least three weeks. Over any critical marketing period, the price may drop by 10p/kg a week, so over three weeks this may mean losing £4 a lamb in income."

But some caution should be expressed about farmer surveys, said sheep vet specialist Chris Lewis. "I am sure some infections diagnosed by farmers as foot-rot are white line disease or other infections."

But he agreed that scald was the most common type of lameness, especially in lambs. "It is a painful condition that is a threat throughout the season. Sheep have no natural resistance to scald." It was the precursor to foot-rot, causing inflammation in the interdigital space, and moved around sheeps feet in the course of a year, added Mr Lewis.

But foot-rot is particularly infectious at certain times of the year. "Normally warm, wet weather triggers foot-rot outbreaks." It commonly occurs during summer and autumn, or when sheep are housed.

Owners should adopt a foot-care and security programme to avoid bringing foot-rot on to farm, said Mrs Phillips. "This means isolating new stock for 14 to 21 days and checking for any signs of foot-rot. Ensure you only mix them with the main flock when you are absolutely sure they have not got it."

Trying to act before an outbreak of foot-rot is likely will give you more chance of keeping on top of it.

That means regular foot inspections, up to five times a year for a lowland flock, she said. Those that are lame or infectious with foot-rot must be treated in a separate hospital group with antibiotics. Repeat offenders must be culled to protect the rest of the flock.

Chris Lewis (left) demonstrates correct foot trimming. Regular foot inspections are essential to keep on top of foot-rot, says Kate Phillips (inset).