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:

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