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Tackling lameness brings other benefits for Welsh sheep producer

Using the five-point sheep lameness reduction plan has helped Welsh sheep farmer improve productivity. Farmers Guardian reports.


Welsh sheep producer Rhidian Glyn started out in 2008 with three hectares (seven acres) and 15 ewes. He slowly but steadily built the business up until 2014 when he and his wife Elen had the opportunity to take on a 215ha (530-acre) hill farm at Talywern, near Machynlleth on a 10-year tenancy.

Rhiwgriafol 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 90 dairy heifers each year.

Mr Glyn says: “We took on the tenancy and bought the sheep which were on the farm, but also inherited some flock lameness issues. The previous shepherd had actually been trying hard to get on top of the problem, including footbathing weekly.

“As soon as we arrived I turned every sheep over and, after consulting our vet, immediately treated any which were lame appropriately with antibiotics. Unfortunately, I also trimmed any misshapen hooves, which I now know was a mistake according to the latest advice.”

Initially, the aggressive treatment policy seemed to keep the lameness in check, but every three months or so the problem would flare up again.

Mr Glyn says: “We really were literally limping along and then, in September last year we experienced a major outbreak 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.”

Around the same time Mr Glyn had applied to become a Farming Connect demonstration site and had been accepted. He says: “I was really keen to get involved because you gain access to so much great industry information and advice, which can then be shared with like-minded farmers. We also want to increase the long-term sustainability of the farm and make the business more financially viable.”

It was through his initial involvement with Farming Connect and reading the farming press that Mr Glyn became more aware of the five-point sheep lameness reduction plan.

He says: “I had heard about the Five-Point Plan, but had not implemented it, but the crisis situation we faced really meant it was time to give it a go.”

He started by gathering all the sheep in 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 re-treated. 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 to break the re-infection cycle, but to help build immunity Mr Glyn also vaccinated all the ewes against footrot.

He says: “After vaccination the improvement was quite startling. Before we vaccinated about 13 per cent of the ewes were lame, but shortly after the first injection when I gathered the sheep again just before tupping time, incidence was down to only 3 per cent. It seems the initial vaccination really did boost their immunity. I was pretty impressed and we will see how things go, but in the future we will definitely consider vaccinating again about four weeks before the peak disease risk periods, such as housing for lambing.”

He says culling has been the hardest element of the Five-Point Plan to implement.

“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 is quarantined – the chance of re-introducing foot infections is being minimised. So I am optimistic once we get on top of the disease issues 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.”

Half the flock goes to a Welsh ram and half to an Aberfield. Ewe lambs are tupped by a New Zealand Suffolk. Lambing started on March 24, with twin-bearing ewes lambing inside and the singles outside. All the lambs are finished off grass, rape and turnips and start being sold at the beginning of July.

“We usually get them all away by the end of the year and last year we averaged £62 per lamb.”

Mr Glyn says: “There is no doubt in my mind that any lameness depresses both ewe and lamb performance. In 2015, 7 per cent of our ewes scanned barren, but we are pretty sure it was not down to an underlying disease issue because we vaccinate against both toxoplasmosis and enzootic abortion. The reason was poor ewe nutrition and I am convinced the high lameness incidence was affecting their ability to eat properly. Fortunately, the ewes are looking great this year – and that is down to good condition scoring, better feeding management and sound feet.”

Farm facts

  • 900 improved Welsh ewes and 280 replacement ewe lambs
  • 90 contract reared dairy heifers
  • 93ha (230 acres) of improved grassland
  • 117ha (290acre) of unimproved rough grazing and 6ha (15 acre) of woodland

The Five-Point sheep lameness plan in brief

1. Cull badly or repeatedly affected animals

2. Quarantine incoming animals

3. Treat clinical cases promptly

4. Avoid propagation of infection on-farm. Reduce the opportunities for the disease to spread sheep to sheep

5. Vaccinate to build up immunity

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