Sheep Event: Finding a fix for costly lameness

More than 10% of UK flocks are lame at anyone time with footrot estimated to cost as much as £8.38 a ewe according to FAI Farm’s consultant, Ruth Clements speaking at NSA Sheep 2010.

“We have known lame sheep are costly in terms of time and antibiotic treatment, but the indirect costs soon mount up too, making lameness a limiting factor on many flocks in terms of productivity and profitability.”

Speaking about a lameness trial FAI Farms were involved in, Ms Clements explained that on their three farms involving 2500 ewes, 18% of sheep were affected by footrot and scald which was costing £3365 a year for direct costs alone. “This is just the tip of the iceberg as it doesn’t take in to account affects on production.”

“We also found that footrot and scald led to concurrent diseases such as fly strike, particularly in the flank region. We think infected feet attract flies and with increase times lying down these flies comes in to contact with the flanks of the animals,” she explained.

Lame sheep are also a visible problem as well as a welfare issue, which is why FAI Farms, Oxford is trialling a new footrot control protocol. The new protocol, involves culling persistent offenders, improved biosecurity and Footvax vaccination bi-annually, Ms Clements explained.

“Already just one year in to the project we have seen a 90% reduction in lameness problems and although the protocol is not a quick fix, we are delighted with the potential financial savings already.”

But in order to get lameness problems under control, correct diagnosis is critical, stressed Intervet Schering-Plough’s field vet advisor Jennifer O’Connor. “For example scald is caused by a bacteria in between the digits and is a pre-cursor to footrot, whereas footrot occurs on the sole and hoof wall- with some infections occurring deeper in the hoof. “So depending on the problem causing lameness will depend on what treatment is applied.”

However, treating individuals is not enough and a whole flock approach needs to be taken, said Ms O’Connor. “For example with footrot the bacteria can survive for up to 10 days on pasture, so by just treating the clinically lame won’t stop spread throughout the flock.”

• For full coverage of NSA Sheep 2010 click here.