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Six key points: In detail

1) No trimming: Research shows that trimming hoof horn delays recovery from footrot. Trimming may also lead to mis-shapen feet that lead to repeated occurrences of lameness. In an clinical trial, only 10% of sheep with footrot that were treated with trimming and spray recovered within 5 days compared to 70% who recovered after being treated with an antibiotic injection and spray.
Another study showed that when perfectly done, routine trimming has no effect on levels of lameness. If feet bleed during routine trimming, lameness levels will increase because feet are damaged. It has been shown that the length of hoof horn changes over the course of the year, and it is naturally longer in spring and autumn and shorter in summer and winter.

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Change in hoof horn length over time
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2) Prompt treatment: Treatment within 3 days of sheep becoming lame is key to controlling lameness because footrot and CODD are contagious diseases. Prompt antibiotic treatment will decrease the time for infection to spread between sheep, so you will see fewer new cases of lameness and use less antibiotic in the long run. After as little as one season, farmers find that prompt treatment is the only activity needed to keep levels of lameness at less than 2%, and even outbreaks of scald stop occurring in most years. [graphic]

3) Consistent use of antibiotics: Footrot is caused by bacteria that invade into the foot tissue. Injectable antibiotics can reach and treat these invading bacteria. Using antibiotic spray treats the bacteria on the surface of the foot, which can reduce the spread of bacteria to other sheep. There is little chance of your flock developing resistance to the antibiotics if you use the correct dose to treat cases of lameness. Resistance is more likely to occur when the dose of antibiotic is too low to properly treat the infection. Avoid pre-emptive whole flock treatments with antibiotics and NEVER add them to footbaths.

4) Importance of biosecurity: Biosecurity protects your flock from the introduction and spread of infectious diseases. Components of biosecurity include:

  • Sturdy fencing to protect your flock from neighbouring flocks which could spread disease
  • Quarantine newly bought or returning sheep for 4 weeks as signs of lameness often take time to appear. If these sheep are bringing new disease with them, you will be able to treat them before they mix with the rest of your flock and potentially infect it.
  • Inspect sheep you are going to buy and talk to the breeder or farmer about their lameness control plan and what diseases are present in the flock. Never buy a visibly lame sheep.

5) Recording: Recording can help identify sheep that are repeatedly lame that need to be culled. It can also be used to monitor lameness levels over time and set targets. Research shows that farmers who record the identity (e.g. eartag number) of sheep treated for lameness have lower levels of lameness than farmers who rely on their memory to identify sheep to cull for lameness. Keep a record of each sheep as you treat them throughout the year. Use a recording system that works for your flock so that you can identify ewes that have been lame repeatedly. You can use one or more of the following:

  • The University of Warwick’s sheep lameness recording app [link]
  • Electronic data recording from EID tags
  • Keeping paper records
  • Long lasting spray mark at the top of the affected leg

6) Cost-benefit analysis:
Research shows that farms with higher lameness levels have higher costs of treatment and higher production losses. The average cost of antibiotic treatment for lameness is £1.20 per ewe. Production costs of lameness vary from £6 - £15 per ewe when lameness is at 6 – 8%. Production costs are very low when lameness is below 2% and sheep are treated quickly. It is clear that treatment (£1.20/ewe) is much more economical than letting sheep become lame (£6-15/ewe).
Overall costs of lameness also vary depending on management practices; costs of lameness are higher on farms where routine foot trimming and routine foot bathing are used to manage footrot compared to farms where individual sheep with footrot are treated with antibiotic injections.
Click here to see how much money your farm could save by treating lameness quickly and accurately.

What to do next:
Take the quiz on the six key points
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