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Sheep Lameness, Mastitis Genomic Project to Reduce Antibiotics Reliance

27 May 2015

UK - A genomics programme selecting for mastitis and lameness resistant sheep is pushing for less reliance on antibiotics.

Both conditions are costly and rely on antibiotics for control, said John Yates, chief executive of the Texel Sheep Society, the breed being developed in the study.

Estimates put lameness costs at £8 per ewe and further productivity losses at £3 per ewe while intramammary infections claim around 10 per cent of the UK breeding stock.

In an industry so heavily reliant on purchased breeding stock, genetic improvements are a “win-win” for better welfare and higher returns.

He said: “Crucially, most current treatment regimes for both footrot and mastitis rely heavily on antibiotics to eliminate infections.

“But with continuing pressure on farming to reduce its reliance on antibiotics in light of fears of antibiotic resistance the industry has to look at other control strategies.”

He agreed that “prevention is better than cure”, but added the infective nature of the conditions means prevention is “particularly difficult”, especially when mastitis is concerned.

Dr Joanne Conington, a sheep genomics expert at Scotland’s Rural College, is leading the study and says there is a 20 per cent heritability for foot rot.

“The challenge now is to expand our knowledge of the link between resistance to footrot with that for mastitis and their interactions with other traits to develop a genomic breeding value for the breed,” she explained.

“Collecting phenotypes across genetically well-connected flocks to fuel these genomic evaluations will enhance the accuracy of genomic breeding values.”

Pressure to curb antibiotics use “will only increase” in the future, she added, urging the sheep industry to be ready for farming without antibiotics in the future.

“Already in New Zealand animals are being screened for antibiotic residues prior to slaughter, so the pressure is increasing on a worldwide level,” she concluded.

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms.

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