Understanding the cause of sheep lameness

Practical demonstrations have formed the backbone of EBLEX’s Better Returns Programme since its inception and last week’s North Sheep was no exception, with lameness the focus of activity.

Independent vet consultant Paul Roger told Farmers Weekly it was important farmers understood the relationship between the outer and inner structures of the foot. “Damaging the outer horn of the foot when trimming can have a significant impact on the inner structures.

“Footrot is the most common problem seen in flocks across the UK, but it isn’t the only cause of lameness and proper control of foot hygeine is essential to prevent infections gaining hold.”

Feet should be trimmed regularly to ensure they don’t become overgrown, but only loose horn should be trimmed to ensure the natural architecture of the foot remains intact. “When footbathing it is important to remember that formalin used at 3% can harden feet and seal in problems, making feet difficult to trim. Zinc sulphate on the other hand can be used without feet losing their natural elasticity.”

Demonstrating a range of foot conditions Mr Roger showed visitors a selection of preserved feet all with different problems:

Fig 1- sheep lameness

Fig-2 sheep lameness

Fig 1.Overtrimming can damage the solar horn

Fig 2.Overgrown hooves can harbour diseases

Fig - 3 sheep lameness

Fig - 4 sheep lameness

Fig 3.Overtrimming causes granulomars Fig 4. For some, culling is the only option

First, he showed farmers how a healthy foot should look (fig 1), pointing out the internal and external structures and how damage to the external structures can affect internal structures. “Overtrimming can impact on the solar horn, making sheep more prone to lameness.”

Next was a seriously overgrown foot (fig 2) which needed to be trimmed back sensibly to open up the sole and allow natural movement to clean the sole. “Overgrown feet can lead to a build up of bacteria and cause infection. Sheep with feet like these will probably walk OK until they are checked.”

Third, flockmasters were shown a foot with a granulomar (fig 3) which had resulted from overtrimming. “It would take 4-6 weeks of treatment to get back to normal, resulting in lost productivity and causing significant pain and distress to the sheep.”

Last, Mr Roger showed them a foot which had probably suffered both footrot and a toe abcess (fig 4). “It’s difficult to tell what the main problem was on this one. The hoof has lost its architecture and its too far gone to restore it. The damage will result in extra pressure on the tendon sheath and result in permanent lameness, this could have been prevented if it had been identified before and the sheep could have been saved, the only option now is to cull it.”


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