SHEEP farmers looking for lameness management advice this summer will be able to access a range of practical support tools when the industry places the focus on better disease control.

Throughout the warmer months, veterinary professionals and animal health product advisers will highlight how to stamp out flock foot problems, providing a range of tips to help sheep farmers kickstart their own disease management protocols.

According to recent MSD Animal Health survey data, from 966 UK sheep farmers conducted early in 2024, more than 50 per cent of the national flock is struggling with more than two per cent of sheep showing signs of lameness. In addition, 17 per cent of flocks are wrestling with more than five per cent of their sheep flock lame.

Only 61 per cent of sheep farms claimed to have a formal lameness control policy in place, with 19 per cent of flocks following the full FAI Farms Five-Point lameness reduction plan after a veterinary diagnosis of any infectious disease cause.

Dr Kat Baxter-Smith, veterinary adviser with MSD Animal Health, said: “The sheep industry has made great strides recently but must maintain momentum if it is to bring flock disease prevalence down to the industry target of less than two per cent of animals lame. And the later summer months – typically around weaning time – is a great time to start implementing the industry-accepted Five-Point Plan for reducing sheep lameness.

“Implemented correctly and given long term commitment, this proven plan gives sheep farmers a clear framework for managing lameness effectively because it builds natural disease resilience within the flock, reduces the disease challenge and spread on the farm, and improves flock immunity through vaccination.”

Dr Baxter-Smith added that consistent and sustained implementation of the Five-Point Plan involves treating affected animals promptly; culling persistent offenders; avoiding the propagation of infection when sheep are gathered together; quarantining any bought-in stock; and implementing routine vaccination against footrot, the most common infectious disease implicated in sheep lameness.

“In addition, more widespread adoption on farm will also help the sheep sector cut its use of antibiotics for foot infections,” said Dr Baxter-Smith.

Sheep farmers are generally keen to get on top of any flock lameness issues, but sometimes feel helpless and often find it difficult to know how and where to start.

She said: “Sheep farmers are making good progress, but by continuing to demonstrate how whole-hearted adoption of all five points of the plan brings results over the longer term, we can all join the march towards the step change that is needed.”

Farmers looking for practical advice can visit the MSD Animal Health stand at the Royal Welsh Show and at NSA Sheep 2024. Help on how to implement the Five-Point Plan will also be available from veterinary professionals and Registered Animal Medicines Advisors.