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Reasons why Reducing Sheep Lameness Needs a Sustained Approach

Reasons Why Reducing Sheep Lameness Needs A Sustained Approach

Rigorous and sustained adoption by farmers of an established disease management protocol is what’s needed to reduce the incidence of sheep lameness on many UK farms.

That’s according to research on uptake by sheep producers of the FAI Farms Five-Point Plan to reduce sheep lameness – and the barriers to more widespread adoption carried out by Harper Adams and Hartpury Universities (1,2).

5 Point Plan to Reduce Lameness 

“The Five-Point Plan gives sheep farmers a clear strategy for managing any foot problems. Implemented correctly over the longer term, it builds natural disease resilience within a flock, reduces the disease challenge and spread on the farm, and improves flock immunity through vaccination. It involves treating affected animals promptly; culling persistent offenders; avoiding the propagation of infection when sheep are gathered together; quarantining any bought-in stock; and routine vaccination against footrot, the most common infectious disease implicated in sheep lameness,” says the coordinator of the research Caroline Best.

We surveyed 532 UK sheep farmers in a cross-sectional study to investigate the relationship between Five-Point Plan use and lameness prevalence.

“The mean farmer-reported percentage lameness in ewes was 3.2%, which suggests positive progress by many farms over the last few years. However, not all farmers claimed to be adopting all five points of the plan, which is important if you are to secure sustainable control of sheep lameness over the longer term.

These key flock management factors were associated with a significantly higher risk of lameness in ewes:

  • Not carrying out measures to avoid lameness transmission
  • Not quarantining bought-in stock
  • Not treating individual lame sheep within three days
  • Maintaining an open flock
  • Routinely foot trimming
  • Foot trimming lame sheep
  • Short-term vaccination (over one year, but no more than two years) as a reaction to lameness rather than as an ongoing disease prevention strategy

“Consequently, future educational initiatives should focus on addressing these particular issues to encourage more widespread adoption of the Five-Point Plan. Sheep farmers are making good progress, but by continuing to demonstrate how whole-hearted adoption of all five points of the plan brings results over the longer term, we can all help support and encourage the step change that is needed,” says Ms Best.

References:
1.Best, C.M., Roden, J., Pyatt, A.Z., Behnke, M. and Phillips,K ., 2020. Uptake of the lameness Five-Point Plan and its assocai tion with farmer-reported lameness prevalence:
A cross-sectional study of 532 UK sheep farmers. Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 181, August 2020.
2.Best, C.M., Pyatt, A.Z. Behnke, M. and Phillips, K., 2021. Sheep farmers’ attitudes towards lameness control: Qualitative exploration of factors affecting adoption of the
lameness Five-Point Plan. PLos One 16(2): e0246798. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0246798

Researcher Caroline Best (pictured examining feet) says that only 5.8% of farmers surveyed were implementing all five points of the sheep lameness reduction plan, which suggests a lack of focus on achieving long-term rigorous disease control.

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