Research in the School of Life Sciences has led to the development of an effective management strategy for the control of footrot, a disease currently costing the sheep industry in Great Britain an estimated £24-£80million a year. Since knowledge transfer disseminated to 50,000 sheep farmers in England, there has been a reduction in the average prevalence of lameness by 50% from 10% in 2004 to 5% in 2013.
Footrot (FR) is an infectious disease of sheep causing lameness. Lameness reduces sheep welfare and causes economic loss from decreased productivity. FR is listed in the top five most important diseases of sheep in the world. Work initiated in 1999 by the School of Life Sciences, in collaboration with Bristol University, found that control of footrot based on flock managements including foot trimming and foot bathing was not effective. Effective flock control of footrot did occur when individual sheep, lame with footrot, were treated promptly with antibiotics by injection and topical application.
A novel management strategy for footrot in sheep was developed called prompt antibiotic treatment (PAT) - sheep treated with systemic and topical antibiotics within three days of becoming lame with FR. Since 2005, PAT has been disseminated to 50,000 sheep farmers by EBLEX (now AHDB Beef & Lamb), the levy body for sheep farmers in England. In addition, more than 50% of farmers who attended an AHDB Beef & Lamb knowledge transfer meeting on lameness stated they had changed their management of lameness as a result of new information from the event.
Led by Professor Laura Green, the research team conducted a within-farm clinical trial and demonstrated that PAT was significantly more effective than foot trimming and topical application of antibiotics. The new approach (PAT) has been taken up by many farmers and resulted in a reduction in the overall prevalence of lameness in sheep flocks in England from 10% (2004) to 5% (2013).
In 2011, evidence from research at Warwick on PAT was used by the Farm Animal Welfare Council of Great Britain to support their statement that it was feasible to reduce the prevalence of lameness in the national sheep flock from 10% in 2011 to 2% by 2021.
The Warwick research has created a change in understanding of how to control FR both in the UK and internationally:
- The work has been presented in Europe as part of Animal Welfare Research in an Enlarged Europe (AWARE), an EU funded project educating all countries in the enlarged EU zone on animal welfare.
- The Sheep Veterinary Society in the UK has adopted PAT as the recognised management approach for FR ‘Advice on best practice for treating and controlling footrot’ (2012).
- Vets and Farmers in Germany have revised their management of footrot as a result of this work
The Warwick team have developed a footrot website for farmers and vets. The site provides information on treatment, control and management of footrot.