Reducing Lameness in your Flock

Emily Walton BVM BVS MRes MRCVS

Lameness is a considerable welfare issue in UK sheep flocks. Not only does it affect the productivity of your flock but it also negatively impacts the public’s perception of sheep farms. Many causes of lameness in sheep are infectious and will easily spread if not caught and treated promptly. 


Following this five point plan you can take steps to improve the incidence of lameness in your flock.

  1. Treat

Regular whole flock mobility scoring can help to identify any lameness early. This regular scoring should replace the need for any routine foot trimming. Sheep that score >1 should be caught and examined. The cause of lameness in each case should be identified and treated appropriately. Early treatment will stop the disease becoming severe and reduce the chance of permanent changes in the foot. 

If you need any advice about differentiating and treating different causes of lameness then have a chat with a vet.

Very mild lameness, only just noticeable
Obvious lameness, stands and walks on all four legs
Obvious lameness, stands on three legs, walks on all 4 legs
Obvious lameness, stands and walks on three legs
Obvious lameness as score four, but multiple legs involved
  1. Quarantine

Sheep identified as lame should be removed from the flock and kept together in a separate “lame flock”. Once they have been treated they can be returned to the flock after three weeks of lameness score <1.

Any new stock should be quarantined for at least three weeks and monitored for foot problems. After this time if they remain sound then they can be introduced to the main flock. 

  1. Cull

Sheep that become re-infected or fail to cure after treatment should be culled. Susceptibility to infections has a genetic factor so you want to be sure not to keep these traits in the flock. Similarly sheep with misshapen feet are more prone to lameness and will often have lambs that develop misshapen feet, so breeding from these sheep should be avoided. Making sure that any lame sheep are properly recorded will help in identifying which ones to cull.

  1. Avoid

Areas where sheep gather should be kept clean and well drained. If possible move collecting pens, water buckets and feed troughs regularly. Good maintenance of tracks and trailers will prevent any foot damage that could allow infection to be introduced. If foot trimming is still used for cosmetic reasons or to treat cases of shelly hoof then care needs to be taken to not to over trim. Foot trimmers should be disinfected between sheep to avoid spread of infectious causes.

  1. Vaccinate 

Building up immunity in the flock is an excellent way to prevent or start to reduce foot rot incidence. Compared to the cost of treatment as well as the productivity losses from lameness vaccination can be a very cost effective strategy. To discuss more about vaccine timing and frequency then get in touch with one of our vets.

 If you have any questions about how to make the 5 point plan work for your flock then get in touch with our vets.