Reducing Lameness in Sheep
Foot lameness in sheep is one of the biggest problems in many flocks and is a big morale sapper for anyone looking after sheep. Footrot is a major cause of lameness in sheep flocks today and although vets have been adjusting their advice and recommendations about how best to tackle it, some new work has been published to cement some of these changing ideas.
Recent research has shown that one of the traditionally advised mainstays of footrot treatment – foot trimming – is actually not all that its cracked up to be… This might be news to you, or not, but either way it is probably music to your worn out hands’ ears.
Research from Warwick University showed that rather than relying on routine foot trimming as a treatment, instead, administer an injectable antibiotic and apply a topical spray within three days of a sheep becoming lame.
Research* has shown that the antibiotic injection in combination with the topical spray was found to reduce lameness by 70 percent after five days of treatment compared to the traditional foot trimming method which only reduced lameness by 10 percent.
Foot trimming has been a traditional routine treatment for footrot for many years but this study has shown that this procedure could actually cause lameness. This is because over-trimming can result in the horn being removed too far and, in some cases, as high up as the coronary band, exposing sensitive tissue that is painful for the sheep to walk on and is therefore susceptible to reinfection.
If sheep are treated with the antibiotic and spray within three days of becoming lame then they should recover without any reduction in productivity and also, because lameness is caused by an infectious bacterial disease, this treatment will prevent onward transmission of the disease throughout the flock.
As we are at a time where efforts are being made to reduce the use of antibiotics, this may seem like conflicting advice, but this highly effective, targeted treatment will help us to use less antibiotics in the long term, due to the reduction of transmission and spread of the disease.
The key message is that, as footrot is an infectious bacterial disease, it should be treated swiftly and effectively with an antibiotic for a speedy recovery and to stop the disease spreading and infecting more animals. It is also important to remember that these conditions can be very painful, therefore giving a Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) to provide analgesia and also an anti-inflammatory effect is not to be forgotten!
Other work and our own experience, bears this out. Further important factors in the control of lameness in sheep are vaccination, using Footvax, and biosecurity. Footvax can be particularly effective if a bespoke vaccination plan is developed with your vet using the vaccine ahead of high risk periods. Though don’t forget your rams in such a vaccination programme. Strict biosecurity will help reduce the chances of re-introducing the bacteria once Footrot is controlled in your flock as well as the introduction of other diseases, such as Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD).