Step change needed on treating lameness in sheep and cattle

A step change is required in how lameness is tackled in sheep flocks and cattle herds around the country, a leading welfare body has claimed.

Nigel Millar.

A nationwide survey carried out by Ruminant Health and Welfare (RH&W) found that along with endemic infectious diseases, lameness-related problems played a leading role in the estimated £500 million cost of disease suffered by the industry.

Commenting on the results of the ’grassroots’ survey of farmers, stock people and vets, which was carried out by RH&W, the industry body set up to co-ordinate the sector’s drive to eradicate and control damaging cattle and sheep diseases, the organisation’s chair, former NFU Scotland president, Nigel Millar, said: “These results are some of the first that truly take into account those at the coalface of farming, who deal with these diseases and conditions on a daily basis.”

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Stating that the results would be used to prioritise where initiatives and interventions should be targeted, he said that on the sheep front it wasn’t surprising that foot rot scored so highly.

He said: “Nobody can doubt the corrosive impact on body condition and welfare. There is also the indirect ripple effect which threatens the performance and, at times, the survival of lambs from affected ewes.”

Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD), another serious and expanding foot disease in sheep, Miller revealed, was also a major concern: “This emphasises the severity of the condition and it may indicate its increasing reach into the national flock.”

On the cattle side, both digital dermatitis and Johne’s Disease were highlighted as major threats across sectors.

“Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) and Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) also rank highly, even though extreme IBR outbreaks appear to be less common and the threat of BVD has subsided due to eradication progress across the four nations,” said Miller.

“The priority status of viral pneumonia is interesting and pinpoints a recurring threat on many holdings. At a time when vaccination programmes are at the centre of the health management debate this may increase interest in that proactive approach.”

Dr Amey Brassington of AHDB, who analysed the results, said the disparity between vet or consultant and farmer views was one of the most interesting findings: “These differences of opinion may be a result of vets having a broader range of experience than farmers. Equally, vets are only called out to issues that cannot be dealt with by the farmer, which could influence what is seen as the biggest issue.”

She said that, as an example, fly strike was a typical example where farmers lead on treatment without the need to involve the veterinary profession.

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said the responses reflected health problems that farmers saw rather than diseases which were difficult to see yet caused sub-clinical problems – and while solutions sometimes existed, the challenge was often putting them into place on-farm.

The RH&W said it would now focus on identifying the barriers and deciding on goals and interventions to tackle priority diseases.