Eliminating the effects of footrot on sheep flocks in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $184,760.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Dr. Richard Brzozowski
University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports


  • Animals: sheep


  • Animal Production: livestock breeding, therapeutics, vaccines
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Pest Management: cultural control, genetic resistance

    Proposal abstract:

    Sheep can be an important enterprise on farms in the Northeast as the region is the home of millions of lamb consumers. However, significant barriers exist to the profitability of sheep including key animal health issues. Footrot has been identified as a main reason sheep farmers are forced out of business. Footrot is a highly contagious disease that requires relentless treatment using persistent hoof trimming, foot bathing, customized vaccines and other management practices. These inputs require considerable time and money. An experienced research team comprised of a veterinarian, a biologist, a geneticist and agriculture educators will lead this project. They will address the disease by educating producers about the causes, treatment, management and preventative techniques including the use of genetic selection to generate footrot-free flocks. A biosecurity plan is an important tool in preventing the disease. Participating farms will implement a customized biosecurity plan. Producers will be selected to participate in this footrot management program. They will be trained in biosecurity as well as in the techniques for assessment, scoring and record keeping of foot health as a basis for selection of breeding stock. The team will evaluate and score the feet of at least 200 sheep from participating farms and collect blood samples. DNA from these samples will be evaluated for predictive markers of footrot resistance. Resistance in these sheep will be tested by documenting absence of footrot lesions in the presence of footrot organisms. The unique integrated approach of foot management, selection for resistance, and documentation of genetic markers will allow breeders to eliminate footrot. Selection for resistance will reduce costs and make producers less dependent on chemicals and other inputs. Our performance target is that 150 participating producers will reduce losses in their sheep operation caused by footrot by at least 70% and have a defined plan to develop a footrot-free flock.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Milestones and Performance Target – Sheep Foot Health Education

    1. 1,500 producers in the northeast will learn about the applied science of foot health of sheep and its influence on the profitability of their enterprise. They will gain skills and knowledge in current methods used to effectively treat and prevent infectious foot diseases as well as to identify genetically tolerant individuals. This will be accomplished in the first year by some producers but may also be accomplished by others in years two and three.

    2. At least 500 sheep producers in the region will develop and implement a customized, written biosecurity plan for their operation. This goal will be accomplished in the first, second and third years as producers recognize the value of a written biosecurity plan.

    3. In year one, 20 sheep producers will be selected by application. These farms will be visited by research team members to train the producers with the knowledge and skills to evaluate, score and record foot health. From these participating flocks, a total of at least 300 sheep will be tissue sampled to test the efficacy of genetic markers for resistance to footrot infection.

    4. In year one, an advisory team for this research project will be established that will include at least 5 sheep producers from participating farms as well as the research team members.

    5. At least 150 shepherds in selected states will develop and maintain a detailed foot rot control program for their operation. This management program would include the use of preventative techniques as well as to identify individual sheep that genetically are tolerant to foot rot. The overall goal would be for each producer to develop a foot rot resistant flock with value-added seed stock for sale. This goal will be accomplished by the third year.

    Performance Target 150 participating producers will reduce losses in their sheep operation caused by footrot by at least $210,000.00 annually (a 70% reduction) and have a defined plan to develop a footrot-free flock.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.