Sheep: Is Your Flock on a Sound Footing?

Is your flock on a sound footing?


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Lameness is one of the worst welfare problems in the sheep industry and causes significant financial loss to many sheep farmers. The main causes of lameness include:

  • Foot rot
  • Scald

but there are many more. Lameness should be included as a major element of any flock health plan and accurate diagnosis and treatment are key to successful control.

Controlling the problem

Quarantine New Stock
Foot bath all new stock on arrival on the farm. Isolate from the rest of your flock and check thoroughly for signs of disease. Keep in quarantine for 4 weeks.

Foot trimming
It is important to maintain the shape and integrity of the hoof so careful foot trimming of overgrown hooves is essential. However over-trimming (drawing blood) should be avoided as this can lead to serious damage to the foot. Shepherds who are too keen with the foot shears tend to have more lame sheep in their flocks. Make sure to disinfect foot shears between sheep as these can spread infectious bacteria. All foot trimmings should be swept up and burnt. Isolate all sheep with foot rot to avoid spreading the disease to other sheep.

Foot bathing
A very useful method of keeping on top of foot rot and scald if carried out correctly. Do not attempt to foot bath when it is raining, as any treatment is likely to be washed off the sheep’s feet immediately. Sheep’s feet should be clean before entering the foot bath so if possible run all sheep through a water foot bath before running through the foot bath chemical. If using zinc sulphate then make up a 10 % solution and let sheep stand in for as long as possible. Adequate contact time with the chemical is essential to ensure thorough soaking of the tissues. A stand-in time of around 15 to 20 minutes for zinc sulphate is ideal, although shorter periods may be recommended.  

Ideally use a wetting agent (e.g. washing up liquid) to help the foot bath chemical penetrate the hoof. If using formalin make up a 3 % solution and allow sheep to walk through steadily. For severe cases of foot rot use zinc sulphate not formalin as this is less of an irritant to the damaged tissues. After treatment allow sheep to stand on a clean dry surface for at least an hour before turning out to a fresh pasture (not had sheep on for at least 10 days).

Severe cases of foot rot respond very well to antibiotic injection. Consult your vet for the most effective drug to use. Antibiotic aerosol sprays are also very effective in treating scald and mild foot rot but are only effective if applied under dry conditions. If sheep do not respond to antibiotics then cull chronically lame sheep.

Foot rot vaccines have been shown to reduce the incidence of foot rot as long as they are used in conjunction with foot trimming and foot bathing.

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