SHEEP farmers attending a flock lameness reduction workshop heard how implementing the industry-accepted five-point plan can reduce disease incidence to less than one per cent within three years.

Organised by Castle Vets and Carrs Billington at Hill Gill, Baldersdale, and developed by local independent sheep vet Dr Fiona Lovatt from Flock Health Limited, the farmers took part in practical sessions designed to give them the skills to reduce the number of lame sheep on their farms.

Dr Lovatt said: “Implemented correctly, the five-point plan builds a flock’s resilience to disease through culling persistently lame animals, reduces the infection challenge on the farm and establishes immunity through vaccination.

“Many flocks around the country are seeing the benefits of implementing this plan and sheep lameness nationally would be dramatically reduced if more farmers adopted it.”

A 2015 report in the Veterinary Record highlighted just what can be achieved. One flock of 1,200 ewes cut lameness levels from an annual average of 7.4 per cent to only 2.6 per cent within a year of implementing the plan.

Lameness levels then remained at less than one per cent for the next three years.

“Lameness should not be accepted as part and parcel of sheep farming and the summer/early autumn is a good time to get started,” said Dr Lovatt. “Any ewes that have persistent or chronic lameness problems should be culled before tupping.

“Use cull tags, spray marks or EID to identify the main offenders and any ewes with chronically misshapen feet. Animals identified as being lame three times in a season should be culled.”

Dr Lovatt said early treatment of any lame sheep is a crucial part of the five-point plan. The feet should be examined closely to identify the cause of the lameness.

“If in doubt seek veterinary diagnostic advice and then treat the infectious conditions appropriately with antibiotics, even if it is only a mild case,” she said.

“If footrot is implicated, vaccination of the whole flock will help reduce the lesions caused by the bacteria Dichelobacter nodosus.

“Ongoing vaccination, timed to coincide with high disease risk times on the farm, will also help prevent future problems and potentially reduce antibiotic use in future years.”

It is important to quarantine incoming animals and avoid spreading disease when sheep are gathered.

Dr Lovatt said incoming sheep were a potential source of different strains of bacteria.

“Make sure you buy sheep carefully and do not accept lame animals or any with misshapen feet. Quarantine the incomers for at least three weeks, and consider vaccinating and foot-bathing them on arrival. Turn every sheep to look for early footrot or CODD and treat any clinical cases as soon as possible,” she said.

Producers must reduce the potential disease challenge from the farm environment. “The bacteria that cause most of the lameness problems in the UK spread well in wet, soiled handling and field areas,” said Dr Lovatt.

“It is therefore important to limit spread by running gathered sheep out through a foot bath and spread lime, or use gravel or wood chip, in any poached or heavy traffic areas, such as around feed troughs.”

Farmers interested in the five-point plan should contact their vet or local animal health supplier.