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Changing the education of young farmers to facilitate uptake of evidence based managements for healthy feet in sheep

The objectives of this study are to work with lecturers at agricultural colleges and universities in order to understand current teaching practices around treatment and management of lameness in sheep, and to identify barriers to changing teaching and beliefs. Ultimately, we aim to provide students with the most up to date evidence for best management of sheep feet.

To do so, the project team has been conducting interviews with lecturers at agricultural colleges across England to understand their current teaching and beliefs around lameness in sheep, and to identify barriers and strategies for change. We have also conducted focus groups with students from colleges across England to understand their current knowledge around lameness in sheep, their preferred learning methods, and key influences on their beliefs.

We are currently developing electronically free of charge materials for students and educators to use, based on the information gained during interviews and student discussions. We will benchmark beliefs and teaching before and after the provision of the new online resource to demonstrate the impact of the project.

Footrot is the most common cause of lameness in sheep in the UK, and is a major concern for animal welfare. It is estimated to cost the UK sheep industry between £24 and £80 million per annum. Since 2004 the level of lameness in sheep has fallen from an average 10% to 5%, and this coincided with new evidence regarding best practice for managing lameness in sheep, and increased efforts to disseminate this evidence to sheep farmers.

By providing students with easy access to evidence from the latest research regarding diagnosis and treatment of lameness in sheep, this project will improve the welfare of sheep in the UK, and increase the productivity and sustainability of UK sheep farms.

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Dr Rachel Clifton

School of Life Sciences

University of Warwick