Associations between farmer types and footrot levels

Authors: O’Kane, Holly, Ferguson, Eamonn, Kaler, Jasmeet and Green, Laura E. (2017)

Summary written by Naomi Prosser.

The results below come from part of a questionnaire on sheep lameness that was sent out in 2013. The results focus on how approaches to manage footrot and farmer’s beliefs and personality are linked to levels of lameness.

The average level of lameness was approximately 3.7%. There was a range of methods used to manage footrot that could be put into three groups. These are listed in the table below. Treating individual sheep within three days of becoming lame was the most important factor for the lowest levels of lameness.

Lameness managementsAverage level of lamenessPercentage of farmers using the managements
Best practiceTreat footrot within three days
Use both injectable and topical antibiotics to treat scald and footrot
Do not trim feet
Slow to treatTake longer than three days to treat lame sheep
Less likely to use both injectable and topical antibiotics
More likely to trim feet
Still using traditional methodsTake much longer than three days to treat lame sheep
Only cull sheep when persistently lame
Unlikely to use injectable antibiotics to treat scald and footrot
Likely to still trim feet

Low levels of lameness were associated with:

  • Knowledge of how footrot is transmitted and the importance of reducing itsspread
  • Knowledge that foot bathing and foot trimming contribute to high levels oflameness and the spread of footrot
  • Farmers who considered themselves conscientious

High levels of lameness were associated with:

  • Not treating lame sheep during some stages of the production cycle e.g. late pregnancy
  • Sometimes delaying treatment during the rest of the year because of lack of time
  • Belief that foot trimming and footbathing are effective to control footrot
  • Farmers who said they were angry, frustrated or felt miserable about the level of lameness in their flock

Thank you to those who participated in this survey; it was a long questionnaire! We are very grateful for your continued support of work into lameness in sheep and hope that the results are of use to you. This is the first study to look at farmers’ attitudes, beliefs and personality and levels of lameness. Ultimately this will help us to explain our results and why some managements are more effective than others more clearly to different types of farmers.

The original research can be found using the link below:

Recent changes in sheep lameness prevalence and treatment

Authors: Winter, Joanne R., Kaler, Jasmeet, Ferguson, Eamonn, KilBride, Amy L. and Green, Laura E. (2015)

Summary written by Naomi Prosser.

These results come from a sheep lameness questionnaire sent out to farmers in 2013.

We found that lameness in sheep in England halved between 2004 and 2013 from 10% to 5%. Footrot and scald are still the most common causes of lameness but 58% of flocks now have contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD) and this is contributing to lameness significantly.

The reduction in level of lameness is linked to changes in management.

  • More farmers are rapidly treating lame sheep, so they recover quickly
  • More farmers are using both antibiotic injection and spray without foot trimming to treat individual sheep with footrot, scald and CODD
  • Fewer farmers are routinely foot trimming their flock
  • More farmers are vaccinating against footrot
  • More farmers are selecting breeding stock from always-sound ewes 

This is the first study to provide evidence for the benefits of the following management practices in reducing lameness in sheep:

  • Quarantine new and lame stock – Only periods longer than three weeks are effective in reducing flock lameness and do so by about 20%.
  • Early detection & treatment with antibiotics – Farmers catching and treating lame sheep within three days of them becoming lame had 30 – 40% lower levels of lameness.
  • Avoiding foot trimming – Farmers who were still routinely foot trimming had 30 -70% higher levels of lameness in their flocks; lameness was higher the more sheep that bled during trimming.
  • Replacing breeding stock with lambs from always-sound ewes – This reduced the level of lameness by about 25%.
  • Vaccination against footrot – When all sheep were vaccinated once a year the average reduction in lameness was 20%. This study also provided supporting evidence to other studies that foot bathing to prevent scald lowers the flock lameness, however foot bathing to treat footrot increases flock lameness. 

The original research can be found using the link below:

Communication method impacts the uptake of best practice managements by farmers

Authors: Grant, Claire, Kaler, Jasmeet, Ferguson, Eamonn, O’Kane, Holly and Green, Laura E. (2018)

Summary written by Naomi Prosser.

These results are from lameness questionnaires that were sent out in 2013 and 2014.

The study investigated methods of giving information to farmers by measuring the uptake of the ‘Six steps to sound sheep’ (see below), and associated decrease in numbers of lame sheep, by farmers who received this information in different ways (via the post, in group meetings or one-to-one visits).

Farmers that received one-to-one visits from the researcher had the greatest reduction in lameness, followed by those who attended group meetings, with the smallest reduction in lameness in flocks that only received leaflets. There was also a greater reduction of lameness in flocks where farmers were already using most of the six steps but were slow to treat lame sheep before the trial, than where farmers had not been using the six steps at all.

The ‘Six steps to sound sheep’ are:

  1. CATCH sheep within three days of becoming lame
  2. INSPECT feet clean away dirt but do not trim hoof horn
  3. DIAGNOSE the cause of lameness
  4. TREAT all sheep with footrot or scald with antibiotic injection and spray but do not trim the foot (spray alone is sufficient for lambs with scald)
  5. MARK and RECORD all sheep with footrot or scald
  6. CULL sheep that are repeatedly lame

After receiving the ‘Six steps to sound sheep’, more farmers:

  • had fewer lame sheep
  • caught lame sheep sooner
  • used injectable antibiotics to treat footrot
  • stopped foot trimming (both routinely and to treat footrot and scald)
  • expressed negative attitudes towards foot trimming
  • were angry or miserable about having footrot in their flock 

The original research can be found using the link below: