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After-Effects of UK Floods: Preventing Lameness and Fluke

09 February 2016

While some sheep have been lost in the Cumbrian floods, those that have coped with flooded grazing and saturated land face the prospect of real health problems over the coming year, Dan Griffiths of Paragon Veterinary Group told Neil Ryder.

Mr Griffiths expects lameness and feet problems will be the most immediate problems, with the expectation of liver fluke becoming a major issue later in the year. In addition there will be management issues both of the sheep themselves and in dealing with reinstating flooded grazings.

He says: “The big one is lameness for sheep. The poached wet land provides ideal conditions for bacteria, such as Fusobacterium necophorum, to thrive as well as softening the skin around the hoof, both of which increase the risk of lameness diseases such as scald or footrot.


Dan Griffiths said the major risks to sheep in flooded areas are lameness and fluke

"Furthermore, prolonged damp conditions and resulting soft ground allow the hoof to properly wear down and this can lead to overgrowth plus cracks weeks later.

“Then if you get mild wet conditions followed by a hard frost that poached land gets hard undulations which the sheep are walking around on. These can cause mechanical type trauma including white line, footrot and damage to the inter digital skin.

“Cattle hooves are more robust than sheep hooves, but the wet land will still increase the risk of bacterial infections like digital dermatitis and foul in the foot.”

“The second big problem will be fluke. Again this affects both cattle and sheep, but is normally a bigger risk in sheep, probably because they graze lower to the ground and are exposed to higher numbers of fluke organisms.

“The fluke cycle is dependent on the mud snail as an intermediate host. The mud snail requires wet land to survive and therefore damp, flooded land provides perfect conditions for them to multiply.

“This coupled with the fact that for every mud snail infected, the fluke numbers increase 600 fold means that the risk of fluke will be high again in 2016. Dependent on the Summer weather the risk could start anytime from August onwards, and farmers should ensure they have a robust fluke treatment plan in place for any stock grazing affected pasture later in the year.”

Mr Griffiths said that most late spring lambing flocks would be on higher land and whilst they may not be affected by flooding the prolonged high rainfall have left hill grazing very boggy.

“These boggy pastures will also increase the risk of lameness and fluke.

"It shouldn’t be underestimated the direct and indirect stress that floods will put on sheep. Impacts include increased risk of abortions, higher stocking pressures as land is ungrazeable, slurry management problems as the land is too wet to spread slurry and higher feed costs as supplementary feeding may be required.

“After water has receded from flooded land it is important to check pasture for any contamination, debris or other risks to stock. Flooding can also erode river banks exposing previously buried material which could be detrimental to livestock.

"The other major management issue post flooding is the repair to damaged fencing. This is imperative to prevent contact with neighbouring stock and potential disease spread as well as keeping stock safe and secure,” he said.

Mr Griffiths outlined a strategy for caring for sheep.

Lameness

The control of lameness in sheep affected by flooding remains the same as normal recommended protocols, however, the risk of overtrimming is even greater as claw horn could be softer than usual.

  • Discuss control options with your vet as each farm is different and each flooded pasture poses different risk factors
  • Treat lame sheep as soon as they are seen lame – even if you consider it is only mild
  • Identify the disease – Footrot, Scald, CODD, White Line Abscess, Toe Granuloma
  • Treat all footrot cases with a tetracycline spray and tetracycline injection, but Do Not Trim (see below)
  • Mark the affected leg
  • Separate from the main flock if possible, and re-examine in seven days. Avoid trimming even at this stage if at all possible
  • Cull sheep with more than two marks as they are carriers and will infect the rest of the flock. Use eartags to identify repeatedly lame sheep so they can be identified and culled when sound
  • Consider vaccination if footrot is identified
  • Use a footbath (see below) for the sheep to walk through or stand in every time they are gathered
  • Quarantine all replacements for three weeks. Inspect all feet during this period, treat cases as above and footbath before mixing with the home flock
  • More information on lameness prevention protocol published by www.xlvets.co.uk

There is now clear evidence that trimming feet causes more damage than it cures. This is because the only time trimming should be done is in order to establish a diagnosis and not as part of routine treatment.

Foot bathing is not suitable as the only control measure for footrot but it may be useful with simple cases of scald in lambs. Footbaths are useful as an additional measure for all sheep to walk through or stand in following any gathering for other management purposes.

It is also good for groups of sound sheep (after the lame ones have been separated off) assuming that they are then turned onto pasture that has had no sheep for 10 days.

The effect of good footbathing lasts for a maximum of 36 hours. This means that its usefulness is limited if carrier sheep are still within the group or if the sheep are turned back to the same contaminated field.

Reducing fluke risk

Flooded pasture will mean higher numbers of mud snails which allows a greater number of fluke to multiply and complete their life cycle. This poses a higher risk of fluke infection in sheep typically from August onwards.

  • Where possible avoid grazing land where mud snails may be present
  • If high risk pasture must be grazed then consider fencing off the worst affected areas where possible.
  • Treat all grazing sheep on affected pastures from August onwards and initial treatment must be effective against early immature fluke. The only effective option is Triclabendazole
  • Treatment must be repeated if sheep continue to graze affected pasture. This is because no fluke product on the market has any persistency and therefore treated sheep are at risk of picking up new fluke the very next day.
  • Once sheep are no longer grazing affected pasture no new fluke will be picked up and a final treatment with an adult flukicide only (any product is suitable as long as it does not contain Triclabendazole) should be administered approximately 8-12 weeks later.

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