A within farm clinical trial to compare two treatments (parenteral antibacterials and hoof trimming) for sheep lame with footrot.
From observational studies, farmers who use parenteral antibacterials to promptly treat all sheep with footrot (FR) or interdigital dermatitis (ID) have a prevalence of lameness of <2% compared with a prevalence of 9% lameness reported by farmers who treat lame sheep by trimming affected feet. We tested the hypothesis that prompt treatment of sheep lame with naturally developing FR or ID with parenteral and topical antibacterials reduces the prevalence and incidence of lameness with these conditions compared with less frequent treatment with trimming of hoof horn and applying topical antibacterials. A further hypothesis was that reduction of ID and FR would improve productivity. A lowland sheep flock with 700 ewes was used to test these hypotheses in an 18-month within farm clinical trial with four groups of ewes: two intervention and two control. The duration and severity of lameness was used to categorise sheep into three weighted scores of lameness (WLS): never lame (WLS0), mildly lame/lame for <6 days (WLS1) and severely or chronically lame (WLS2). The intervention reduced the prevalence of lameness due to FR and ID in ewes and lambs and the incidence of lameness in ewes. The WLS was also significantly lower in sheep in the intervention groups. Ewes with a higher WLS were subsequently significantly more likely to have a body condition score <2.5 and to have lame lambs. Significantly more ewes lambed and successfully reared more lambs that were ready for slaughter at a younger age in the intervention versus control groups. There was an increase in the gross margin of £630/100 ewes mated in the intervention group, including the cost of treatment of £150/100 ewes mated. We conclude that prompt parenteral and topical antibacterial treatment of sheep lame with ID and FR reduced the prevalence and incidence of these infectious conditions and led to improved health, welfare and productivity.