A new publication to help farmers prevent sheep lameness and offer advice on treating existing problems has been launched by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
Sheep lameness is a significant problem in Scottish flocks and can affect lamb production, growth rates and ultimately profitability. However, having a lameness strategy in the farm flock health plan can help farmers tackle the challenge of lameness.
Vet Ian Gill from Thrums Veterinary Practice based in Kirriemuir has first-hand experience of farms with lameness issues. He has helped many farmers to address problems by providing advice on good practice and promoting lameness strategies within flock health plans.
Mr Gill, a past president of the Sheep Veterinary Society, said: "Nationally the most worrying cause of lameness is Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis also known as CODD, but in our area foot rot, scald and shelly hoof are the main problems."
CODD is often brought onto farms via bought-in sheep and Mr Gill’s advice is to check where sheep are coming from and, if possible, avoid buying from places with a known problem.
Acknowledging that is easier said than done, he advised that all bought-in sheep should be quarantined for at least four weeks and foot bathed twice before being turned out with others. He also said that ideally the quarantine fields should be those targeted for ploughing and reseeding.
He said: "CODD is a very contagious condition which can be brought onto upland farms when hoggs have been away-wintered on dairy grass where cows have suffered from digital dermatitis. Farmers should ask about this when they are negotiating winter grazing lets."
Another source of footrot or CODD is bought-in tups and infection can quickly spread when they are turned out with ewes.
Farmers with flock health plans who are in regular contact with their vets are more likely to prevent lameness problems.
"We have found that on average lame ewes were a condition score less and were more likely to be barren,” said Mr Gill.
“We believe that if there is 10% lameness due to CODD in a flock then antibiotic injections are worthwhile. Over 2% lameness requires some treatment but can often be controlled by changes in husbandry, footbathing or, in the case of footrot, vaccination."
Foot rot is probably the most recognisable of sheep lameness problems and it is now believed that scald is an early stage of foot rot. The advice is not to routinely trim - in fact the old treatment method of trimming, purple spray and turning back into field will only cause the condition to spread.
Sheep with foot rot should be isolated and treated with antibiotic sprays and if necessary, injections. If trimming is necessary then shears should be disinfected after each foot and sheep pens also swept and disinfected to avoid further contamination.
"My advice would be to avoid routinely paring feet, even if they are a bit overgrown. Leaving them untrimmed does not usually do any harm and if they can be turned out onto a bit of rough ground or hill, the natural wear usually solves the problem,” said Mr Gill.
One of the best times to check for lameness is at scanning and Mr Gill said that in his experience it is often the lame ewes which are barren or carrying singles. If they are to be housed for lambing, then he said it was best to try to keep lame ones separate and treat.
Other good times to check over the flock and carry out treatments are at weaning and pre tupping, when there are least feet on the ground with only the ewes and tups to check.
One of the problems with lameness is, he said, that unless the farm has a health plan where annual discussions with a vet highlight problems, few farmers ask a vet's advice regarding lameness. Correct diagnosis is important as the many products available from agricultural stores are not always the most appropriate for certain conditions.
The QMS lameness publication has been printed a handy pocket size on hard wearing plastic to withstand farming life and Scottish weather. It offers practical advice on both prevention and treatment and general foot care and is available to download here. If you would like to receive a hard copy in the post please phone QMS on 0131 472 4040.