Farmers asked to inspect lame sheep for footrot

As a result of seasonal conditions, sheep and goat producers are encouraged to check lame animals for signs of footrot.

Department of Agriculture and Food veterinarian Jennifer Cotter said 2016’s winter and spring conditions had been conducive to footrot occuring.

“Moist, warm conditions allow the skin and horn of sheep and goat’s feet to soften, promoting invasion by bacteria,” Dr Cotter said.

“It is important for producers to look for signs of lameness in sheep at routine checks and handling opportunities.”

DAFWA biosecurity officer Andrew Longbottom inspecting sheep for footrot

DAFWA biosecurity officer Andrew Longbottom inspecting sheep for footrot

Dr Cotter said virulent footrot was more prevalent in areas with higher rainfall and moist pastures that kept the feet of sheep wet and soft at times of the year when average daily temperatures were above 10°C.

The Footrot Control Program is funded by the Western Australian sheep and goat industry via the Sheep and Goat Industry Funding Scheme, with operational activities managed by DAFWA.

Specialised training in the identification of footrot was conducted for DAFWA staff and external contractors involved with property and abattoir inspections.

DAFWA footrot inspectors have since been examining lines of sheep at five abattoirs across the southern region and collecting samples from any lesions resembling footrot. These are tested in the laboratory by attempting to culture bacteria causing footrot to determine whether the strain is virulent or benign.

“Where animals are found to have virulent footrot, they will be quarantined and DAFWA will assist the farmer to develop a management plan to eradicate or control the disease,” Dr Cotter said.

Virulent footrot causes lameness and productivity loss depending on the severity of the disease, and can lead to animal welfare issues. Sheep from farms with virulent footrot are quarantined to stop the spread of disease to other farms and protect the WA sheep industry. Infected flocks are subject to movement restrictions and can only be moved for slaughter or to export.

“If you suspect footrot in your animals, contact your local DAFWA biosecurity officer who will take samples for laboratory testing. The cost of laboratory testing is paid for by the Sheep and Goat Industry Funding Scheme,” Dr Cotter said.

Dr Cotter added that it was important to always confirm the cause of foot-related lameness in sheep.

“While footrot is the most likely cause of lameness, checking for a cause and testing can rule out other diseases or physical causes,” she said.

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