Sheep advice: How can I reduce the risk of lameness in slatted sheds?

With the lambing season underway, the focus will turn to ensuring ewes are healthy and in good condition.

An issue that is quite common on sheep farms is lameness. The aim should be to avoid housing any lame ewes and to treat them separately from the rest of the flock.

Ewes that are housed on solid concrete floors are susceptible to picking up infections from wet and dirty straw. However, this can be avoided by regularly bedding ewes and spreading lime around the pen.

However, this is a bit trickier for ewes that are housed on slatted floors. Moreover, the fact that if you spread lime on slats; the majority of it will be lost down the tank.

Leaving a gap between the feed-face and the slats allows for lime to be spread in the pen

Therefore, if you are planning to build a new shed for your ewes, or have this problem, it would be best to leave a gap – approximately 2ft – between the slatted floor and the feed-face.

This, in turn, allows the farmer to spread lime on the concrete floor. Furthermore, this means when the ewes are at the feed-face they come into contact with the lime and this should reduce the risk of lameness from occurring.

In existing slatted units, the task of altering the feeders should not be that difficult and it will have a positive effect on the health of the ewes.

How can I reduce the incidence of lameness in my flock?

The aim should be to keep the number of lame sheep at any one time below 5%. Therefore, it is important to run ewes through a foot bath prior to housing and at regular intervals to minimise the risk of lameness.

Furthermore, farmers should group together any lame sheep and isolate them from the rest of the flock

Control measures that a flock should undertake can be summarised in a five-point plan.

Five ways to control lameness:

  • Treat: All lame sheep must be identified and treated effectively. It is important that farmers check their flock regularly for any signs of lameness;
  • Separate: Lame animals should be removed from the rest of the flock so that the healthy ones do not become infected;
  • Cull: Sheep that have been treated three times for lameness should be culled. Therefore, it is important that farmers keep records of any sheep that have been treated to avoid repeat offenders;
  • Quarantine: Sheep entering the flock should be quarantined to avoid introducing new strains of contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD) or footrot. Careful consideration should be taken when purchasing animals in the mart;
  • Vaccinate: The use of vaccination has been shown to reduce footrot significantly by protecting individual sheep.