Improving the management of flock lameness problems is one of the top animal health priorities for UK sheep producers.
Foot health was top of the agenda for farmers attending a ‘solving lameness’ meeting at Furze Farms, Peopleton, Worcestershire, said Phillipa Page of Flock Health.
The event was courtesy of Home Farm Nurseries and organised by farm shepherd Anthony Warmington.
Ms Page said: “It is the one disease area sheep farmers consistently ask me questions about.”
Highlighting the important ‘plan, prevent and protect’ approach to tackling any disease issue on-farm, Ms Page said any plan to tackle lameness must start with a correct diagnosis.
She said: “When it comes to foot problems, you have to know what you are dealing with. Ask your vet for advice. If you are struggling to get on top of a lameness problem, it may be that you have multiple disease problems involved, such as footrot, contagious ovine digital dermatitis [CODD] and scald.”
She added that every flock situation was different and an assessment of farm-specific disease risk factors, such as seasonal trends, hygiene, housing, handling areas and field management, was also important.
“Only then can you come up with the right farm-specific disease control measures,” she said.
Ms Page said that whatever priority management approach was implemented, it should always be based on agricultural research body FAI Farms’ five-point plan for reducing sheep lameness.
“The five-point plan is already delivering substantial improvements on UK sheep farms and, by committing fully to it, you can build a margin of safety to ensure a flock is less likely to succumb to lameness issues.
“Implemented correctly, it builds natural disease resilience in the flock, reduces disease challenge and spread on-farm and improves flock immunity through vaccination.”
However, she urged farmers to be ‘smart’ with each five-point action plan on-farm.
“Smart means make your plan specific, measurable and achievable within a realistic timeframe. Turning to practical disease control steps, Ms Page said weaning was an ideal time to cull any problem ewes with chronically misshapen feet and determine the breeding flock for the new sheep year.
She said: “Start by culling out any ewes which have had persistent lameness problems. Ewes suffering repeated bouts of lameness are a constant source of infection in the flock and affect the success of the other control measures in the plan.
“Use cull tags, spray marks or EID to identify the main offenders. Animals identified as being lame at least twice in a season should be culled.”
However, early treatment of any lame sheep, ideally within three days of becoming lame, is an important part of the plan, particularly early on in its implementation, while there are still a considerable number of lame animals.
“Feet of affected sheep should be examined closely to identify and diagnose the cause of lameness. If in doubt, seek veterinary advice and then treat an infectious condition appropriately with antibiotics, even if it is only a mild clinical case.
“If footrot is implicated, vaccination of the flock will help reduce the lesions caused by multiple strains of the bacteria Dichelobacter nodosus [most farms have more than two strains], which is present on about 97 per cent of farms and a year-round threat.
“Ongoing vaccination, timed in anticipation of high disease risk times [such as warm, wet underfoot conditions and at housing] on-farm, will also help prevent future problems and reduce antibiotic use in future years.
“Vaccination is not a silver bullet and must be used in conjunction with other steps, but it is a sound investment towards protecting your flock and reducing any potential future costs associated with treatment.”
Ms Page added that the prevent parts of the five-point plan included following a robust quarantine plan for any incoming animals and avoiding spreading disease when sheep are gathered and handled.
“Remember that incoming sheep are a potential source of different strains of bacteria and are therefore a risk to sheep already on-farm.
“Make sure you buy sheep carefully and do not accept lame animals or any with misshapen feet.
“Quarantine the incomers for at least four weeks, vaccinating and footbathing them on arrival.
“Turn every sheep to look for early footrot or CODD and treat any clinical cases as soon as possible.”
Finally, reduce the potential disease challenge from the farm environment. Remember that the bacteria causing CODD, footrot and scald spread from sheep to sheep.
She said: “The bacteria which cause most of the lameness problems in the UK spread well in wet, soiled sheep handling and field areas and can survive on pasture for up to 30 days.
“It can be useful to spread lime, or use gravel or wood chip, in any poached or heavy traffic areas, such as around feed or water troughs.”
10 key steps to getting the most from sheep vaccines
PAUL Rowley, managing director of Sterimatic, highlighted the importance of correct vaccination practice:
1 Read the vaccine pack instructions before use to understand the correct dosing regime, injection site advice, storage instructions and any warnings/contra-indications
2 Store vaccines in a working refrigerator set at a constant temperature between 2degC and 8degC, continually monitoring your fridge storage temperature
3 On the day of administration, transfer your vaccine from the fridge into a cold bag, as this will protect it throughout the usage period, particularly on warm days
4 Check any expiry dates before use
5 Avoid stressing sheep as much as possible, particularly if they are heavily pregnant; keep handling to a minimum and do as few operations at one time as you can. If wanting to do multiple treatments, always check with your vet they are compatible
6 Ensure the injection site is clean; avoid vaccinating wet sheep or injecting through dirty skin areas. Choose a clean yard or pasture, as failure to do this may result in injection site abscesses
7 Check vaccination equipment before use, Administer vaccines using a gun equipped with an automatic needle cleaning system, as this will reduce the incidence of any potential injection site abscesses
8 Do not inject an ailing sheep unless advised to do so by your vet
9 Administer the correct dose at the recommended vaccination site, keeping a record of all treatments
10 Discard any part-used packs; consult the datasheet to check the respective shelf life after first opening; vaccine contents can become contaminated during use and these bacteria may cause severe local reactions or even death if the vaccine is used at a later date