Farmer survey highlights need to open eyes to sheep lameness

The industry has made big strides to reduce lameness cases in sheep but results from a recent Mole Valley Farmers survey suggest it’s still a big challenge on many farms.

Just under 30% of the 754 respondents said 5% or more of their flock was lame, suggesting they were not meeting the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s (FAWC) 2021 target of under 2%. The majority (70%) said they had a lameness incidence of 0-4%, which meant they were hitting the FAWC’s 2016 target of less than 5% lame.

Considering national lameness figures were reported at around 11% in 2004, this shows the industry has made significant progress, but there’s still room for improvement.

Vet Andy Adler of Molecare Farm Vets said it was easy for farmers to “go blind” to lameness when they’re seeing it every day. However, he added it was vital to sit up and pay attention.

“For me, sheep lameness is a considerable problem because of the welfare implications on the sheep and the fact the public can see it as they walk the countryside. That means it’s incredibly important farmers take it seriously,” he said.

Nearly a quarter of those surveyed (22%) believed lameness was just something they had to live with, however Kat Baxter-Smith, Veterinary Advisor for MSD Animal Health, said that did not need to be the case.

She said: “It’s not an easy disease to manage as it’s multi-factorial, but there are plenty of farmers who manage it well.

“Firstly, it’s saying I have a problem, then hitting it hard. Yes, it will be hard work in the first few years and there will be a cost to it, but farmers will see the rewards.”

Both vets said the key to success was adopting The Five-Point Plan (5PP) to lameness.

For maximum success it’s important to embrace all five points:

1. Treat

All lame sheep should be identified, isolated from the main flock immediately and treated. Speak to a vet to determine the exact treatment strategy as it will vary depending on whether the cause is scald, foot rot or contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD).

Scald often starts in the lambs and then progresses into foot rot which can go into the ewes. As a result, it’s essential any issues are addressed early. Scald is also easier to treat than foot rot.

Preventative foot trimming is no longer recommended as it acts as a means of disease
transmission and creates unnecessary work.

2. Quarantine

Any sheep brought onto farm should be quarantined for at least 28 days and foot-bathed in copper sulphate or formalin to prevent disease spread. Lame sheep in the existing flock should also be separated and treated.

3. Avoid

Avoid the risk of spreading infection at handling. Lime gateways, disinfect pens between gatherings or change locations when using moveable handling facilities. Avoiding unnecessary handling is also key.

Avoid antibiotic footbaths to treat for lameness as there’s increased risk of resistance when used in a generalised way. It’s also hard to dispose of. Copper sulphate or formalin footbaths can be used as a preventative strategy.

4. Cull

Cull repeat offenders to reduce infection pressure as they are key routes of infection. Opt for ‘twice and you’re out’ in one season or ‘three times and you’re out’ in a lifetime.

5. Vaccinate

Vaccinating with MSD Animal Health’s Footvax can help build flock immunity to contagious lameness, so the number of clinical cases reduce. Vaccination timing is flexible so it can fit in with the farming calendar. Initially two jabs are given six weeks apart, followed by twice yearly.

To contact Molecare Farm Vets call 01392 347240 or email [email protected]