Sheep farmers looking for lameness management advice, will be able to access a range of practical support tools when the industry places the focus on better disease control, this summer.

Throughout the warmer months, veterinary professionals and animal health product advisers will highlight how to stamp out flock foot problems; providing a range of tips to help sheep farmers kickstart their own disease management protocols.

According to recent MSD Animal Health survey data, from 966 UK sheep farmers conducted early in 2024, more than 50% of the national flock is struggling with more than 2% of sheep showing signs of lameness.

Some 17% of flocks are wrestling with more than 5% of their sheep lame and sadly, only 61% of sheep farms claimed to have a formal lameness control policy in place. Only 19% of flocks follow the full FAI Farms Five-Point lameness reduction plan after a veterinary diagnosis of any infectious disease cause.

“The sheep industry has made great strides recently but must maintain momentum if it is to bring flock disease prevalence down to the industry target of less than 2% of animals lame," said Dr Kat Baxter-Smith, veterinary adviser with MSD Animal Health.

"The later summer months – typically around weaning time – is a great time to start implementing the industry-accepted Five-Point Plan for reducing sheep lameness."

She added that implemented correctly and given long-term commitment, this proven plan gives sheep farmers a clear framework for managing lameness effectively because it builds natural disease resilience within the flock, reduces the disease challenge and spread on the farm, and improves flock immunity through vaccination.

Dr Baxter-Smith said that consistent and sustained implementation of the Five-Point Plan involves treating affected animals promptly; culling persistent offenders; avoiding the propagation of infection when sheep are gathered together; quarantining any bought-in stock; and implementing routine vaccination against footrot, the most common infectious disease implicated in sheep lameness.

“In addition, more widespread adoption on farm will also help the sheep sector cut its use of antibiotics for foot infections.”

Sheep farmers are generally keen to get on top of any flock lameness issues, but sometimes feel helpless and often find it difficult to know how and where to start.

“Sheep farmers are making good progress, but by continuing to demonstrate how whole-hearted adoption of all five points of the plan brings results over the longer term, we can all join the march towards the step change that is needed.”