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Wet weather causing foot problems

Wet conditions have been welcomed across our areas recently, but they have also raised a few health concerns in livestock. One such concern is foot abscesses in sheep.

Foot abscess is generally seen in heavier classes of sheep, particularly rams and heavily pregnant ewes.  When there is good ground cover and wet conditions sheep feet are subject to prolonged wetting and mud.  This damages the skin of the foot allowing bacteria to invade and cause a localized infection in the soft tissues, joints and bone.

Usually with foot abscess only one foot is involved, but it is very painful so the lameness is quite severe.  This is a problem if rams are joining as they will be reluctant to serve.   And if heavily pregnant ewes are affected they are at increased risk of metabolic conditions such as hypocalcaemia or pregnancy toxaemia as their feed intake will be reduced.

There is no ideal treatment option for foot abscess.  Antibiotics may be effective if given very early on, however once the infection has penetrated the joints and bone there is little benefit.  Animals will generally recover slowly from this point with or without any antibiotic treatment.

Prevention is obviously best.  Where possible at risk sheep should be moved to a dry paddock until conditions improve.  Avoid running at risk sheep through wet, muddy laneways and yards.   Foot bathing in zinc sulphate will toughen up the skin between the toes making it more resistant to softening under wet conditions, but needs to be done properly, and possibly every couple of weeks to maintain the effect.  However, sheep moving through the muddy conditions around the foot bath may actually negate the benefit from bathing.

These wet conditions, particularly as the season warms up, will also favour the development of virulent footrot.  There have been isolated cases of this debilitating disease in our local area over the last few years.  This should be a reminder to lift your on farm biosecurity to avoid introducing the disease onto your property.   Request a Sheep Health Statement for any sheep entering your property.

Quarantine any incoming sheep until a decent spread period to ensure no animals are lame.  Be aware of stray stock – if you do have strays you may need to quarantine the at risk mob until a spread period also to ensure there has been no spread of disease.  It is also important to know that footrot is a notifiable disease and there is a legislated obligation to notify either the Local Land Services or NSW Department Primary Industries if you have reason to suspect presence of the disease.

If you are concerned about lameness in your flock a district vet will be happy to examine your sheep to determine the cause.