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Reducing Lameness in Sheep

14 April 2015

UK - Lameness remains a key problem on many sheep farms in the UK, despite the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s challenge to the industry to reduce the national incidence of lameness from 10 per cent to five per cent by 2016.

The lameness five-point plan is an industry-wide campaign which gives farmers a clear strategy and enables them to minimise this issue on their farms.

If followed, the five-point plan should result in increased natural resilience to the diseases that cause lameness, reduce the disease challenge on farm and improve the immunity of the flock. But there is no quick fix to tackling lameness.

The five-point plan:

  • CULL Ewes that have been lame twice in a season.
  • AVOID The spread of bacteria causing lameness in the field and when handling sheep.
  • TREAT Individuals promptly, ideally within three days.
  • QUARANTINE Infected sheep and incoming sheep. Sheep from other farms, including sheep wintered at another farm, are also a potential source of infection.
  • VACCINATE Prior to high-risk times.

In addition to the five-point plan, correct diagnosis of the lesions causing lameness in a flock is of utmost importance.

As part of a recent focus farm project, managed by EBLEX and delivered in conjunction with industry partners, farmers were asked to take part in a lesion identification quiz.

The results showed that 80 per cent of the farmers recognised scald and 67 per cent spotted footrot, however, only 58 per cent recognised Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD).

Fourteen per cent of respondents also misdiagnosed CODD as foot rot and 10 per cent as shelly hoof.

Treatments differ for different lesions and also on the severity of the outbreak; if producers are unsure they should contact their vet for an accurate diagnosis.

Many farms will have high-risk periods of lameness, for example when sheep are housed, during the summer months (young lambs) and when the weather is warm and wet. Because mild cases can be highly infectious, producers are encouraged to treat them early in order to minimise the spread.

Footrot is still the most common cause of lameness in the UK and estimated losses from this alone amount to £6 a year for every ewe in Britain.

However, the incidence of CODD is increasing and recent research carried out by the University of Liverpool has suggested that it is endemic in sheep flocks in certain parts of the UK.

A separate report on CODD from the University of Liverpool (funded by EBLEX and HCC) has provided an insight into the agents involved in CODD and their susceptibility to antibiotics.

The research has found there are three groups of bacteria (treponemes) thought to be involved with CODD lesions.

The different groups had a variation of susceptibility to different antibiotic groups. This could impact the effectiveness of antibiotics, administered on farm, to treat CODD.

The debate with regard to foot trimming is ongoing.

Several years of research suggest that trimming sheep’s feet, especially when infected, delays healing when compared with not trimming.

Producers are urged to not to foot trim routinely.

If they are unsure of this best practice, they should experiment by not foot trimming a group, monitor their recovery and compare with the group that are trimmed.

To see our article on Addressing Foot Rot in Sheep Through Five Steps and view a video on the Five Point Plan click here.


Further Reading

Find out more information on lameness by clicking here.

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