Welcome to Farmers Weekly‘s Stamp Out Lameness campaign in association with the National Sheep Association.
Together with key industry partners, Marks and Spencer and MSD Animal Health, we are launching this campaign to address an ongoing problem in the industry and help farmers run better businesses.
Sheep lameness was recently put on the government’s radar when the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (formerly known as Council) put forward an Opinion on Lameness in Sheep last year. This recommended that:
1. The prevalence of lameness should be reduced to 5% or less by March 2016 and to 2% or less by March 2021.
2. The government should enforce the law dealing with the welfare of sheep using various penalties.
3. The government should work with the industry to develop a national strategy to reduce lameness in sheep.
Why is lameness an issue?
Lameness to any degree is causing sheep pain. It is a welfare issue and as an industry that prides itself on high levels of welfare we need to ask ourselves, are such levels of lameness really acceptable?
The image of sheep grazing happily in fields is something that needs to be preserved. It isn’t something we want tainted by lame sheep, particularly as welfare creeps up on the public and government agendas.
What’s more, lameness expert Laura Green, of Warwick University, reckons it could be costing as much as £10-15 for every ewe put to the tup with 8% lameness in the flock, that’s up to £15,000 for a 1,000-ewe flock.
“It’s the production costs that are the hidden costs,” she says. “Lameness can impact on an animal’s ability to eat, which in turn affects production and the animal’s immune system.”
How can we tackle lameness?
One of the main causes of lameness is foot-rot, which accounts for 90% of all lameness and is present in more than 97% of flocks.
And even in an imperfect world it is something that can be tackled, with some farms in the UK already managing to reduce levels to less than 2% or even eradicating it.
And the secret to foot-rot management is the five-point plan (see diagramme), which has been proven to reduce the levels of lameness down to 2% or less when fully adopted.
Over the next four weeks we will bring you details of the plan, focusing on the five key areas:
1. Quarantine of incoming animals – tips on preventing buying in infection.
2. Treatment of clinical cases early – identifying animals and the benefits of treating early.
3. Avoiding spread at gathering and handling – two farmer case studies will detail how they have avoided spread by changing handling systems and using lime.
4. Vaccination – information on how vaccination for foot-rot can help the fight.
5. Culling badly or repeatedly affected animals – farmer case studies will outline how they have implemented a strict culling regime.
Although some lameness cases are unavoidable, the vast majority of cases, especially those caused by foot-rot and scald, are preventable by adopting the five-point plan.
We hope this campaign will encourage you to take the time to look at lameness in your flock, adopt a mindset change and address the different areas in the plan.
A recent sheep lameness survey by Farmers Weekly, answered by almost 250 sheep farmers and vets, found lameness to be a cause for concern on most farms. Download a summary of the results.
Livestock editor Sarah Trickett shares her thoughts on the survey:
High welfare is one of the key selling points British farmers have in marketing themselves in a competitive environment, yet results from the Farmers Weekly lameness survey suggests sheep welfare could be slipping below the high standards we set ourselves as an industry.
The survey results demonstrate how concerned producers are about the level of lameness on farm and emphasises the wide extent of the problem – yet the level of lameness has remained the same since 1994.
And while getting on top of lameness may be an added task, the potential to save thousands of pounds and ensure good sheep welfare should be enough to drive the industry to take action.
We now have the tools to address the problem in the form of the five-point plan. So let’s make sure we don’t have the same lameness levels in our national flock in another 18 years’ time. Now’s the time to take action and stamp it out.