Welsh sheep farm looks to Stamp Out Lameness

As a follow up to Farmers Weekly‘s campaign, a group of specialists teamed up to form the Stamp out Lameness hit squad and visited three farms to highlight key areas where they could address sheep lameness. In week one they visit Islwyn Owen in North Wales.

Current lameness control:

The farm commonly sees scald outbreak a few weeks after housing and consequently, Mr Owen has started blanket treating ewes with oxytetracycline at housing.

Last year a batch of ewe lambs were also vaccinated for foot-rot. However, he later witnessed an outbreak of contagious ovine digital dermatitis CODD in these animals – something the vaccine is not designed to be active against.

“Any ewes lame with foot-rot will be treated with an injectable antibiotic,” says Mr Owen. “I’ll also cull the odd individual because of lameness, but there’s no set strategy.”

Any individuals with scald will be individually treated with an oxytetracycline spray or if a batch is identified with scald, they may be run through an antibiotic foot-bath. Rams are bought in every year, but there is currently no defined quarantine strategy. Mr Owen estimates flock lameness incidence at 3-5%.

The hit squad’s key recommendations:

The five point plan (see graphic) forms the foundations to any lameness control plan. However, the crux to successful control is to use all of the blocks which make up the plan.

The Hit Squad ran through each part of the plan to see how lameness could be further controlled at Cefn Bodig:

ISLWYN OWEN

  • Cefn Bodig, Bala, Gwynedd, Wales
  • 116ha – permanent pasture, common grazing and rush land.
  • Runs from 900-1,000ft.
  • 50 Welsh Black sucklers and 700-750 ewes.
  • Primarily Welsh Mountain flock.
  • Had been crossing to Aberdale, but due to high prolificacy, will be changing to Aberfield and buying in 250 ewes.
  • Sells most lambs into Waitrose Welsh Lamb Scheme.
  • Lambs 18 March with 75% of flock lambing indoors.

1. Culling of repeat offenders

Action: Focus on recording and culling persistent lameness offenders

Repeat offenders pose a continual risk of spreading infection to the rest of your flock, explains Ms Clements.

“Culling is crucial to reduce disease challenge and build up resilience at the same time. At FAI Farms we have a two strikes and you’re out rule.”

Ms Clements says the main thing is to ensure cull ewes at Cefn Bodig are identified – whether that’s with a tag or spray marking.

The hit squad explain how most farms may have to accept culling at about 5% in the first year, but this will quickly drop in the second year.

As the farm approaches weaning, Mr Owen says this could create an ideal opportunity to cull out repeat offenders.

 

2. Quarantine

Action: Quarantine when buying-in stock

It would be worthwhile to adopt a quarantine strategy for bought in rams and ewes to avoid buying in infectious disease, believes Mr Angell.

“I would suggest tipping all bought in stock to identify any signs of lameness and treating accordingly.” All stock should also be vaccinated for foot-rot and kept separate from the main flock for four weeks.

3. Treat

Action: Distinguish treatment between foot-rot and CODD

Mr Owen’s current practice of spraying lambs with signs of scald with oxytetracycline is good, but the main thing is to ensure they are being picked up straight away, says Ms Clements.

By waiting, these individuals will spread infection to the rest of the flock. “When you’re checking stock, make sure you see everything walking and look for those that are slightly lame too,” she says. Because the hit squad were identifying the early signs of lameness, they put incidence at 10%, compared to Mr Owen’s estimate of 3-5%.

Rather than using an antibiotic foot-bath the hit squad also suggests using zinc sulphate to avoid the likelihood of antibiotic resistance.

“The current blanket use of oxytetracycline at housing is sensible in the current situation. But we want to put together a lameness control strategy which reduces disease risk and means this isn’t necessary,” says Ms Clements.

Having identified CODD in ewe lambs, Mr Angell also emphasises the need to identify the cause of lameness and treat accordingly.

Although little is understood about the control of CODD, he says amoxicillin is believed to be more effective treatment, instead of oxytetracycline. “A repeat jab may also be necessary, and also, trimming off the hoof capsule in cases of CODD can help aid recovery.”

Lameness analysis at Cefn Bodig

  • Mr Owen’s estimate of lameness prevalence: 3-5%.
  • The Hit Squad’s estimate of lameness prevalence: 10%.
  • Current cost of foot-rot: £4,856/year or £6.50/ewe (At 10% lameness and culling 1% of flock for lameness.
  • At this level of lameness, by culling 5% for lameness and vaccinating twice a year, this will reduce the cost of lameness down to £3,700 a year.
  • When lameness prevalence is then reduced to 2%, culling can reduce to 0.1%, and while vaccination continues, this will reduce the cost of lameness to £2.80/ewe.
  • Vaccination and culling is therefore a worthy investment.

4. Avoid

Action: Use lime on handling areas

The current handling set-up at Cefn Bodig is good and provides opportunity to reduce infection risk.

Ms Clements says the main focus should be on maintaining a clean environment to avoid risk of disease spread.

However, rather than running through a foot-bath, hydrated lime could be put on high traffic areas.

When handling on wet days, Ms Clements suggests holding stock on a bedded area next to the handling system, rather than on the yarded area to keep feet dry.

5. Vaccination

Action: Adopt a foot-rot vaccination program

The Hit Squad suggests introducing a twice yearly vaccination program for foot-rot. To fit with other vaccinations, this could be given at scanning and after shearing.

“Grazing on common ground means there is added risk of disease, so vaccination gives you added protection. Vaccination and culling may seem like an additional cost, but if you calculate the cost benefits, it is a worthy investment on this farm,” says Mr Angell.