Sheep Lameness Workshops
Sheep farmers attending a flock lameness reduction workshop in Newtown and Pwllheli on 25th and 26th May respectively, heard how implementing the industry accepted five-point plan and sticking with it can reduce disease incidence to less than 1% within three years.
Organised by Wynnstay in association with Milfeddygon Deufor on farm at Gwythrian, Aberdaron, attending farmers participated in a range of practical break-out sessions designed to give them the skills to tackle the challenge of reducing the number of lame sheep on their farm.
“The five-point plan gives sheep producers a clear lameness management strategy for the future and a practical protocol for reducing the incidence of this costly problem,” said independent sheep vet and developer of the practical workshop, Dr Fiona Lovatt from Flock Health Limited
“Implemented correctly, the five-point plan builds a flock’s resilience to disease through culling persistently lame animals, reduces the infection challenge on the farm and establishes immunity through vaccination. Many flocks around the country are seeing the benefits of implementing this plan and sheep lameness nationally would be dramatically reduced if more farmers adopted it,” she said.
For example, a 2015 report in the Veterinary Record highlighted just what can be achieved. One flock of 1,200 ewes managed to reduce lameness levels from an average annual prevalence of 7.4% to only 2.6% within a year of implementing the plan. Lameness levels were then maintained at less than 1% for the next three years.
“Lameness should not be accepted as part and parcel of sheep farming and the summer/early autumn is a good time to get started. Any ewes that have had persistent or chronic lameness problems should be culled before tupping,” Dr Lovatt said.
“Ewes suffering repeated bouts of lameness are a constant source of infection in the flock, reducing the effectiveness of the other control measures. Use cull tags, spray marks or EID to identify the main offenders and any ewes with chronically misshapen feet. Animals identified as being lame three times in a season should be culled.”
Dr Lovatt also stressed that early treatment of any lame sheep is a crucial part of the five-point plan. “The feet of affected sheep should be examined closely to identify the cause of the lameness. If in doubt seek veterinary diagnostic advice and then treat the infectious conditions appropriately with antibiotics, even if it is only a mild case.
“If footrot is implicated, vaccination of the whole flock will help reduce the lesions caused by the bacteria Dichelobacter nodosus. On-going vaccination, timed to coincide with high disease risk times on the farm, will also help prevent future problems and potentially reduce antibiotic usage in future years.”
She also added that it was important to quarantine any incoming animals and avoid spreading disease when sheep are gathered and handled.
Incoming sheep are a potential source of different strains of bacteria and are therefore a big risk to sheep already on the farm. “Make sure you buy sheep carefully and do not accept lame animals or any with misshapen feet. Quarantine the incomers for at least three weeks, and consider vaccinating and foot bathing them on arrival. Turn every sheep to look for early footrot or CODD and treat any clinical cases as soon as possible,” she said.
Finally, sheep producers must reduce the potential disease challenge from the farm environment. “The bacteria that cause most of the lameness problems in the UK spread well in wet, soiled handling and field areas. It is therefore important to limit spread by running gathered sheep out through a foot bath and spread lime, or use gravel or wood chip, in any poached or heavy traffic areas, such as around feed troughs,” Dr Lovatt told participating farmers.
Farmers interested in implementing the five-point plan on their own farm should contact their local vet or call Wynnstay on 01691 828512