Sheep farmers look set to consult their vets more often after attending meetings held to spotlight lameness issues across the industry.
The meetings were held by EBLEX, the organisation for beef and lamb levy payers in England, as part of a focus farm initiative that involves a network of sheep farms and is funded by the Rural Development Programme for England skills framework.
The first round of meetings attracted more than 700 farmers and industry advisers to hear about the five-point lameness plan, and see practical demonstrations on lesion identification and treatment.
The most popular management change was to treat lame sheep earlier (51%), followed by culling repeatedly lame ewes (45%).
The events also prompted farmers to question their use of foot trimming, with those that routinely trim feet being more likely to stop as a result of attending the events.
Delegates completed a quiz on lesion diagnosis, which showed the majority of farmers could recognise scald (80%) and footrot (67%). Contagious ovine digital dermatitis, however, was less easily recognised, with 58% of those questioned identifying it correctly.
When asked about their management practices, 18% of respondents believed more than 5% of their flock was lame at any one time. However only 4% of those questioned would use their vet to diagnose lameness.
Routine foot trimming was common, despite being shown to be counterproductive in many cases, with 35% doing it once or twice a year and 8% doing it more than three times a year.
EBLEX senior regional manager Steve Dunkley said if the English sheep industry was to tackle its significant lameness problem, it was essential farmers knew what they were treating and treated accordingly.
“Misdiagnosis can lead to prolonged lameness, extra costs and ineffective treatment,” he said. “Farmers should use the vet to diagnose lesions if they have concerns or an ongoing issue that isn’t improving.”
A number of the 19 focus farms carried out small-scale trials to monitor lame sheep that were treated in line with the latest thinking. The EBLEX BRP Focus Farms Bulletin Extra at http://bit.ly/1CJV83U includes a case study of one of those farms.