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18 November 2015

Technical research and industry collaboration to stamp out sheep lameness

Lameness is a major economic and animal welfare challenge across the sheep sector.

5 Point Plan Inforgraphic

Production losses due to lameness are estimated to cost as much as £10–15 for every breeding ewe, costing the UK industry £24m per annum as a result of lost performance and treatment costs.

A framework to reduce lameness, most commonly caused by the infectious bacterial diseases footrot and scald, was formulated by Ruth Clements, Benchmark Animal Health’s Head of Veterinary Programmes.

The Five-Point Plan was developed by drawing together existing science and practical experience from farmers who had achieved and sustained low levels of lameness in their flock. The plan provides the industry with a practical and effective strategy to help meet lameness reduction targets (5 per cent or less by March 2016; 2 per cent or less by March 2021) set by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC). The five action points support the animal in three different ways: building resilience, reducing disease challenge, and establishing immunity via vaccination.

FAI Vets inspecting the flock health in Oxford

The Five-Point Plan has been implemented over four years on 3,000 ewes at three farms. At Benchmark’s farm in Oxford, lameness levels were reduced from a national average of 18 per cent to less than 2 per cent within the first year. Levels have been maintained at less than 1 per cent for over three years.

As well as improving animal welfare and having an economic benefit to the farmer, wide implementation of the Five-Point Plan has the potential to substantially reduce the number of doses of antibiotics used. This is particularly relevant as antibiotic resistance is an extremely important issue for all livestock species and any opportunity to reduce it should be taken.

Illustration showing the 5 points of the plan

Our Five-Point Plan has received widespread support and recognition. We continue to work with partners throughout the sector including the Organisation for the English Beef and Sheep Industry (EBLEX), MSD Animal Health, TheSheepSite.com and Farmers’ Weekly to ensure the Plan is taken up on as many farms as possible. The Plan has also been featured on BBC Countryfile, in the Veterinary Record, the UN Food & Agriculture Organization’s Gateway for Animal Welfare and a number of other industry-focused publications and outlets.

We continue to work with partners throughout the sector to ensure our Five-Point Plan is taken up on as many farms as possible, making best practice common practice.

RUTH CLEMENTS

HEAD VET AT FAI FARMS