Sheep farmers need to focus on all parts of the FAI Farms Five-Point Lameness Plan if the target to reduce the national incidence to 2% or less by 2021 is to be hit.
Latest research surveying 532 UK sheep farmers between November 2018 and February 2019 found the average lameness levels were 3.2%.
However, worryingly, of those farmers taking part in survey, only a small number (5.8%) were implementing all parts of the plan, which is needed for sustainable control, with many farmers adopting just three parts instead.
The researchers at Harper Adams University and Hartpury University were surprised to find farmers were often vaccinating as a reaction to lameness rather than using it as a preventative tool.
Co-ordinator of the research Caroline Best says: “Non-vaccinating farmers would only consider vaccinating when, on average, percentage lameness increased by 15.7%; suggesting farmers are vaccinating as a reaction to lameness.
What is the FAI Five-Point Plan?
The Five-Point Plan gives sheep farmers a clear strategy for managing any foot problems.
Implemented correctly over the longer term, it builds natural disease resilience within a flock, reduces the disease challenge and spread on the farm, and improves flock immunity through vaccination.
The five points are:
- Treating affected animals promptly
- Culling persistent offenders
- Avoiding the propagation of infection when sheep are gathered together
- Quarantining any bought-in stock
- Routine vaccination against foot-rot – the most common infectious disease implicated in sheep lameness
“Farmers who did vaccinate were more likely to cull and quarantine, though less likely to treat affected sheep promptly, which is indicative of a preference for a whole flock management approach to tackling lameness problems,” she adds.
Farmers were no more likely to adopt the remaining elements of the Five-Point Plan if they were vaccinating, despite industry recommendations that all five points should be implemented at the same time.
The research, which set out to investigate the relationship between Five-Point Plan use and lameness prevalence, also found a high number of farmers foot-trimming – a practice that can hinder lameness reduction.
The study found one in five farmers routinely foot-trimming and more than half foot-trimming lame animals.
Just under half were trimming to correct misshapen claws without active signs of infection.
Farmers under the age of 35 were also more likely to trim the feet of lame sheep.
The research team also found a correlation with trimming and increased lameness.
Ms Best adds: “We were able to establish that trimming misshapen claws [without signs of active infection] is associated with increased lameness prevalence.
The study identified eight risk factors associated with higher lameness levels in ewes:
- Not carrying out measures to avoid lameness transmission
- Not quarantining bought-in stock
- Not treating individual lame sheep within three days
- Maintaining an open flock
- Routinely foot-trimming
- Foot-trimming lame sheep
- Foot-trimming misshapen claws without active signs of infection
- Short-term vaccination (over one year, but no more than two years) as a reaction to lameness rather than as an on-going disease prevention strategy.
What are the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) targets?
In 2011, the FAWC issued an Opinion on Sheep Lameness and set a target of reducing lameness to less than 5% by 2016, and to less than 2% by 2021.