Hit Squad battles sheep lameness in Devon

As a follow-up to Farmers Weekly‘s campaign, sheep lameness experts Ruth Clements of FAI Farms and vet Joseph Angell from Liverpool University formed the Stamp Out Lameness Hit Squad. In the final week, they visit Bryan and Liz Griffiths, as Aly Balsom reports.

Liz and Bryan Griffiths are dedicated to promoting high health and welfare in their flock. They identified an average lameness prevalence of 3%, with seasonal peaks particularly around April and May.

They have seen little scald this year, but they can witness outbreaks around May-June. When scald is identified, stock may be run through a formalin or zinc sulphate footbath.

“If it gets bad we will flip over ewes and treat with oxytetracycline spray,” says Mr Griffiths.

They work closely with vet Mike Glover of Torch Vets and have identified white line disease, shelly hoof, scald and foot-rot. They also believe they have bought in contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD).

“On speaking with Mike, I think Bryan and I have misdiagnosed white-line for foot-rot and foot-rot for CODD,” says Mrs Griffiths.

  • 800 Mules and Suffolk cross Mules
  • 70 beef cattle
  • 129ha of mostly permanent pasture on clay soils
  • Ewes housed about Christmas
  • Lambs sold direct to a supermarket
  • Lamb inside from March
  • Buy-in most replacements

Ewes are vaccinated once for foot-rot at housing and Mr Griffiths says this brings lameness under control during this period. The fact ewes are easier to identify and treat at housing also helps tackle any problems quickly.

The Griffiths believe the vaccine’s protection can peter out by midsummer, but it’s easier to manage foot-rot when ewes are dry. At this time stock may be gathered, foot-bathed and given an oxytetracycline injection where necessary.

The pair admit they are guilty of holding on to persistently lame ewes, rather than culling them.

Most replacements are bought from market and separated from the flock for several months to reduce the risk of introducing pestivirus.

CODD and foot-rot were identified at Southcott Farm. When a ewe has CODD, or both foot-rot and CODD, amoxicillin is the best treatment. 

Hit squad recommendations

The five-point plan forms the foundations to any lameness control plan. But, the crux to successful control is to use all the blocks which make up the plan.

Upon lameness scoring a batch of ewes and lambs at Southcott Farm, the Hit Squad identified a lameness prevalence of 23% – a level that is not uncommon on many farms.

“The Griffiths are dedicated to their flock and are doing a lot of really good things to try and control lameness along with their vet. But at the moment there is no clear year-round strategy,” says Ms Clements. “This level of lameness is not rare and the five-point plan can really help get prevalence under control.”

The Hit Squad ran through each part of the plan to see how lameness could be further controlled.

1 Cull

Action: Identify repeat offenders and adopt a culling policy 

Like many farmers, the Griffiths find it difficult to make the decision to cull young or apparently productive ewes with chronic foot-rot. But it’s vital to understand the added cost from them spreading disease, says Ms Clements.

“Weaning is a good opportunity to cull those that have had multiple bouts of lameness.

“Talk with Mike to decide on a threshold for culling and how you might identify repeat offenders.”

2 Quarantine

Action: Using lameness as part of buying decisions for replacements 

The Griffiths are aiming to buy-in replacements from one known seller in the future and this will help reduce the risk of buying in lameness, says Mr Angell.

“I would suggest putting bought-in ewes in a field that has been rested for two weeks – preferably in one of the farm’s satellite areas.

“Turn up every ewe and examine the feet. This will allow you to pick up the early signs of CODD – which don’t cause signs of lameness – and treat accordingly,” he explains.

Mr Angell also recommends feeding lameness issues back to sellers so they can get any problems under control. Bought-in stock should also be vaccinated for foot-rot before joining the main flock.

3 Treat

Action: Treat early signs of lameness and distinguish treatment between foot-rot and CODD 

Most of the lameness cases identified by the Hit Squad were chronic cases, often caused by a combination of factors such as foot-rot and CODD.

“The Griffiths recognise the benefits of prompt treatment when stock are housed and are dosing at the correct level, which is good. The key is to pick up cases early to prevent them becoming chronic and spreading disease to other ewes and lambs,” says Ms Clements.

Mr Angell also explains the importance of making the right diagnosis.

“If you’re seeing foot-rot on its own I would treat with oxytetracycline. If it’s CODD or foot-rot and CODD together I’d recommend amoxicillin,” he says.

Any CODD cases may benefit from a repeat injection two to three days later, so Mr Angell suggests putting a note in the diary to check these individuals.

4 Avoid

Action: Use lime on soil-based handling areas 

The handling system on the home farm has great potential, says Ms Clements. “The concrete area can easily be washed and disinfected.”

She suggests using lime on the soil-based handling areas positioned around the farm to reduce disease risk.

Mr Angell says when foot-bathing, stock must stand in the bath for the recommended period for each product and then stand for at least half an hour on concrete to let it dry.

5 Vaccinate

Action: Move to twice-yearly vaccination and vaccinate replacements 

The Hit Squad recommends moving to twice-yearly vaccination at housing and after shearing to give protection at high-risk periods when stocking rates are high. This could be reduced down to once a year when the challenge is brought under control. 

Using the Reading University lameness cost model with Southcott farm’s figures, the cost of foot-rot was calculated to be £8.80/ewe. This was based on a lameness prevalence of 23% in dry ewes and 5% in in-lamb ewes. This includes 1% culling for lameness and vaccinating once a year.

By reducing lameness prevalence to 5%, by culling 3% for lameness and vaccinating twice a year, this would bring costs down to £4.10/ewe. You can calculate the cost of foot-rot on your farm at www.fhpmodels.reading.ac.uk/models.htm