Sheep farmers could reduce antibiotic treatments for lameness by as much as 92% within two years of implementing a practical five-point plan, developed by FAI Farms to control the disease within a flock.

A recent report by the Oxfordshire-based group of scientists, consultants and producers – published in the Veterinary Record – describes how they managed to substantially reduce the number of lameness treatments administered to their flock of 1,200 ewes over a four-year period.

Vet Ruth Clements explained: “Before we implemented the five-point plan our mean number of monthly antibiotic treatments was 3.8 per 100 ewes. During the first year this was reduced to 1.4 treatments per 100 ewes per month, and during years 2-4 was sustained at less than 0.3 treatments per 100 ewes per month.”

FAI Farms managed to reduce flock lameness from an average annual prevalence of 7.4% to only 2.6% within a year of implementing the plan. Lameness levels were then maintained at less than 1% for the next three years.

Followed thoroughly and consistently year-on-year, the five-point plan builds a flock’s resilience to the diseases that cause lameness, reduces the infection challenge on the farm and establishes sheep immunity.

The five points comprise:

  1. prompt and appropriate treatment of any lame sheep
  2. bi-annual vaccination with Footvax to reduce footrot lesions and build immunity
  3. culling badly or repeatedly infected sheep
  4. quarantining incoming animals
  5. avoiding spreading infection when sheep are gathered and handled

Ms Clements added: “According to EBLEX, the estimated losses from footrot alone equate to around £6 a year for every ewe in Great Britain, but these are costs the industry does not have to bear.

“Our experience shows that you really can get on top of lameness problems and reap the flock performance and animal welfare benefits of an extremely low disease incidence level.”

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