An Update on Sheep Lameness

Have you got a lame sheep? Farm vet Dave talks realistically about lameness control plans to tackle lameness in your flock.

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Have you got lame sheep?

In reality, most farmers do – so if you were truthful and answered yes – you aren’t alone! What’s important is being realistic as to how many you have and having a lameness control plan to tackle lameness in your flock.

In 2011 the Farm Animal Welfare Committee set national targets of =< 5% by 2016 and =<2% by the end of 2021. In 2020 a nationwide study set the national level at 3.2% – so lots of good work has been done by farmers and vets, but more work is needed to hit the final target![1]

A Farmers Weekly study of 400 farmers 87% stated lameness as a concern in their flock.

Table 1 shows the financial impact of lameness, and when we ran an inhouse vets meeting to discuss sheep lameness, it’s fair to say the costs surprised some of the team too!

What are the main areas to act on?

The 5 Point Plan was introduced in 2014 [3] after a trial on several farms including the FAI’s 1000 ewe flock. In this flock lameness (a score of 1 or higher on the Warwick Scale) reduced from 19% at the start to 10% at the end of year 1 and <2% at the end of year 2, after all 5 sections were implemented together.

The plan was designed to have all 5 areas used synergistically, and often farmers who fail to see any change in their lameness levels after developing a lameness control plan, struggle because they are only acting on one or two areas of the plan.

Using the 5 steps together in varying amounts creates a ‘margin of safety’ to protect against a strong challenge (e.g v wet winter).

The aim is a combination of the ‘positive’ steps (culling repeat offenders and vaccination), and ‘negative’ steps (quarantine protocol, treatment and avoidance) to regain control and a return on investment.

The 2020 survey[1] also found that, of 532 sheep flocks, the top contributory reasons for a failure to control or reduce lameness were;

  1. Trimming lame sheep – 52% respondents trimmed lame sheep, 20% routine trim
  2. Keeping an open flock
  3. Having no control measures to reduce transmission (67.9% didn’t do any ‘avoid’ measures)

The same study also found that 90% of farmers who started vaccinating against footrot, reported a ‘major’ or ‘moderate’ improvement in flock lameness levels.

Will vaccinating save me money?

‘Footvax seems expensive’ must be one of the main things farmers nationwide say as to why they don’t do it. However, now we know the financial impact of a single lamesheep it’s easy to show the potential benefits of vaccinating; if implemented correctly alongside other parts of a plan. This example uses a 300 ewe flock, with 10% of the ewes being lame.

Potential Vaccination savings:
(300 ewe flock, 10% prevalence)

£89.80/ewe affected = £2,694/yr

Footvax @ ~£1.08 / dose

Primary course & 6 mo booster = 3 dose/ewe
900 doses = £972

Potential savings of: £1,722

How can we work with you further on lameness control?

Some of the team have undertaken the Sheep Lameness Reduction Advisor training course and can come out to do lameness reduction advice visits. On these we work through the 5 point plan questionnaire with you to produce a lameness reduction plan.

We can also lameness score your flock, provide bespoke advice on vaccination and footbath products as well as discuss standard treatment protocols for infectious lameness.

If you would like to arrange a visit with one of our vets, contact the team and we’ll be happy to help

[1] – C.Best et al. , 2020
[2] – Lameness Reduction Advisor Training Course, 2020
[3] –


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