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Lameness in sheep treatment guidelines save UK farmers £700M

Copyright: Professor Laura Green/The University of Warwick

Evidence provided by BBSRC and DFID-funded researchers from The University of Warwick has helped cut the number of lame sheep in the UK national flock by half, saving the industry £700M over ten years and preventing 7.5M sheep from becoming lame every year.

The researchers, led by Professor Laura Green of The University of Warwick, found that a single injection of antibiotic helped 95% of sheep suffering from footrot recover, compared with 25% of those treated using traditional methods.

In 2004, approximately 10% of sheep in the UK were lame – that’s more than 2M animals in distress. 80% of lameness cases were due to the bacterial disease footrot (Dichelobacter nodosus) that causes inflammation in the feet and results in substantial weight loss, chronic pain and stress for diseased animals which can exacerbate other conditions.

Data breakout

£70-210M Estimate cost of lameness in UK annually
23.1M Number of sheep in UK flock in 2015
<2% by 2021 Lameness target level in sheep population. The 2016 target (5%) has already been met

“The infection goes under the [hoof] horn, like going under a nail, and the horn will pop away, so you can imagine how painful that is,” Green explains.

Farmers typically managed lameness through twice-yearly foot-trimming of the whole flock, cutting away overgrown hoof horn [equivalent to nail in people] and spraying any infection with a disinfectant. However, causing feet to bleed during foot-trimming leads to chronic lameness, and affected sheep often have to be killed because they do not recover. Use of these techniques is often rooted in tradition rather than scientific evidence, and now more than half of sheep farmers no longer routinely foot-trim their sheep.

Green collaborated with colleagues at Warwick as well as Dr Jasmeet Kaler at The University of Nottingham and Dr Rose Grogono-Thomas at the University of Bristol. The researchers worked with industry partners such as the Sheep Veterinary Society to disseminate their results, and via the AHDB Better Returns Programme, provided this new information on lameness to 18,000 farmers.

BBSRC funding for the research included £902k through the CEDFAS initiative, as well as an ISIS travel award, Industry Interchange Programme funding and two recent CASE studentships.

Read the full impact evidence report:

Lameness treatment guidelines save UK farmers £700M (PDF 1.61MB)

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