Lameness has always been a focus for Welsh sheep producer Rhidian Glyn since starting out in 2008 with just under three hectares (7.5 acres) and 15 ewes.
Rhidian Gyln slowly built up his sheep business until 2014, when he and wife Elen secured the opportunity to take on a 212-hectare (530-acre) hill farm at Talywern, near Machynlleth, on a 10-year tenancy.
Rhiwgriafol Farm now carries 900 improved Welsh ewes and 280 replacement ewe lambs on what is 93ha (230 acres) of improved grassland, plus 117ha (290 acres) of unimproved rough grazing and 6ha (15 acres) of woodland. The Glyns also contract rear about 220 dairy heifers each year.
Rhidian says: “We took on the tenancy and bought the sheep which were on-farm, but also inherited some flock lameness issues. The previous shepherd had been trying hard to get on top of the problem, including footbathing weekly.
“As soon as we arrived, my first step was to turn every sheep over and, after consulting our vet, immediately treated any which were lame, appropriately with antibiotics.”
Initially, the aggressive treatment policy seemed to keep lameness in check, but every three months or so, the problem would flare up again.
Rhidian says: “We were literally limping along, then in September 2016 we experienced a major outbreak of lameness, with footrot and CODD both being diagnosed.
“It was then I knew we had to take drastic action and put a plan in place to eradicate the problem once and for all.”
It was through involvement as a Farming Connect demonstration farm and reading the farming press that Rhidian first became more aware of the five-point sheep lameness reduction plan.
He says: “I had heard about the five-point plan, but I hadn’t implemented it. Frankly, the crisis situation we faced really meant it was time to give it a go.”
Rhidian started by gathering all the sheep and anything which was even slightly lame was split off into an isolation group.
He says: “They were all diagnosed by the vet and treated appropriately immediately before being sent back out to grass, albeit still in isolation.
“Two weeks later, they were brought back in and any which were still lame were retreated. After another two weeks, those which had recovered were returned to the main flock and those which were still lame were earmarked for culling.”
This helped break the re-infection cycle, but to help build immunity, Rhidian also vaccinated all ewes against footrot.
He says: “After vaccination, the improvement was quite startling.
“Before we vaccinated, about 13 per cent of ewes were lame, but shortly after the first injection when I gathered sheep again just before tupping, incidence was down to only 3 per cent.
“It seems the initial vaccination really did boost their immunity. I was pretty impressed. We now vaccinate routinely about four weeks before peak disease risk periods, such as housing for lambing.”
Rhidian says culling has been the hardest element of the fivepoint plan to implement. He says: “Any sheep which is a repeat offender will go. You can cope with it when a ewe is quite old, but if it is a ewe lamb or relatively young ewe, it is much harder to make the call, but you have to if you want to eradicate the problem.
“Fortunately, as we are a closed flock – apart from buying-in the occasional tup, which are quarantined – the chance of re-introducing foot infections is being minimised.
“I am now optimistic we will be fine as long as we keep vaccinating. Our pens and handling area are very good too, with plenty of sound hard standing area, which is very easy to keep clean.”
Rhidian says he is delighted to have found a sustainable solution to his flock lameness problem: “Fortunately, the ewes are looking great this year, which is down to good condition scoring, better feeding management and sound feet.”
Find more information on the MSD Animal Health stand at NSA Sheep 2018 and the Royal Welsh Show.