Eliminating the effects of footrot on sheep flocks in the Northeast
Footrot of sheep is a highly contagious disease that requires relentless treatment using persistent hoof trimming, foot bathing and other management practices. These inputs require considerable time and money. For decades, this disease has forced sheep producers out of business.
An experienced team comprised of a veterinarian, a biologist, a livestock geneticist and two agriculture educators lead this research project to help sheep producers eliminate the disease in their flocks. Over the three-year life of the project, the team 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 a key piece in preventing the disease. Participating farms will implement customized biosecurity plans to address this and other sheep health issues.
Approximately twenty producers from the 12-state northeast region will be selected to participate in this footrot management program over the life of the project. The producers will be trained in biosecurity as well as in the techniques for trimming, 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 may be tested by documenting absence of footrot lesions in the presence of footrot organisms.
In the first year of this project, an effective a treatment protocol was developed and trialed by the research team for use by sheep producers. The unique integrated approach of foot management, selection for resistance, and documentation of genetic markers will allow breeders to eliminate footrot. In addition, selection for resistance will reduce costs and make producers less dependent on chemicals and other inputs.
Performance Target: One hundred and fifty (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. It is estimated that producers spend from $1,600.00 to $2,000.00 annually addressing foot health in their respective flocks. A 70% reduction in losses for 150 producers is calculated to be $270,000.00 ($1,800.00 X 150 producers). A 70% reduction in looses related to footrot for just half of the shepherds in milestone #1 is calculated to be $1,350,000.00 ($1,800.00 X 750 producers).
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 milestone has not yet been fully accomplished. However, an outline was developed in December 2010 for workshops and an on-line tutorial on sheep footrot. These educational programs will be launched in 2011 with sheep producers in the northeast being the target audience. In December 2010, the American Sheep Industry Association’s (ASI) weekly newsletter carried a story about this sheep footrot research project.
At least 500 sheep producers in the region will develop and implement a customized, written biosecurity plan for their operation. This goal has not yet been accomplished. However, a template for such a plan was developed in 2010 and is near completion.
In year one, 20 sheep producers will be selected by application. Three (3) farms were selected for participation in 2010. These three farms were visited in August, September and October 2010 and sheep from these farms had hooves trimmed and scored. In addition, blood samples were taken from each sheep. Approximately 200 sheep were scored and sampled for the project in 2010. The research team used this first year to set a firm foundation for the research. An application packet is posted on the project web site for all sheep farmers in the northeast. Ten farms will be selected for participation in 2011 and ten more farms will be selected in 2012.
In year one, an advisory team for this research project will be established that will include at least 5 sheep producers from participating farms and four members of the research team. In December 2010, three experienced sheep producers agreed to serve this research project as advisory team members. No official advisory team meeting was held in 2010. However, discussions were held with each farmer to gather feedback on proposed plans as well as to gather other ideas for possible implementation. In addition, procedural feedback was obtained from two advisory team members via an electronic survey. At least two more individuals from the region will be invited to become advisory team members in 2011.
A website for the project http://umaine.edu/sheep/ was created in July 2010. The research team met via conference call several times in 2010. In July 2010, an animal use protocol was submitted by the research team and approved by the sponsoring institution. In early August 2010, the research team made the first farm visit and developed a succinct 4-week protocol from which producers will follow. In addition, foot-scoring criteria and a record sheet were developed. The team spent three days on the first farm trimming and scoring hooves of 70 sheep, sampling blood and developing the procedure. Many issues were discussed by the team as our main goal was to develop a protocol that sheep producers would implement. Barriers to implementation of the protocol by prospective producers were reduced or eliminated completely. Members of the research team visited two more sheep farms in September and October 2010 and handled an additional 150 sheep – gathering data from the respective flocks.
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 milestone will be accomplished in the first year by some producers but may also be accomplished by others in years two and three. In December 2010, the American Sheep Industry Association’s (ASI) weekly news report carried a story about this sheep footrot research project. It is estimated that 5,000 producers (nation-wide) receive this electronic newsletter from ASI. More articles are planned for 2011.
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. An effort targeting this milestone will be a high priority in 2011. It is felt by the members of the research team that disease problems are typically “purchased” by producers when new sheep are introduced to the flock without proper inspection, evaluation or quarantine. A biosecurity plan, if implemented properly, will reduce or eliminate many sheep health problems. A template for developing biosecurity plans was drafted in 2010. However, technical difficulties and web policy prevented the template from being used online in 2010. The team plans to adapt and make this template available to all sheep producers in the region from which each farm may customize a biosecurity plan for their specific operation in 2011.
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 properly trim, 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. Three farms were selected for participation in 2010. These farms were visited by members of the research team and over 200 sheep have successfully completed the 4-week protocol.
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. This milestone was partially accomplished by December 2010.
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.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Over 200 sheep have been handled, feet trimmed and feet scored from three participating farms in 2010. An electronic survey was sent to these three farms at least 4 weeks after farm visits by the research team. Survey results of the three farms show that footrot was eliminated from all flocks (100%). All producers stated that they gained confidence in identifying footrot as a result of their participation in this project. All producers stated that they gained confidence in the proper trimming of feet as a result of their participation in this project. All producers responded that the protocol to eliminate footrot on their farm was clearly presented. Now that each farmer completed the 4-week protocol for eliminating footrot in their flock, no sheep in their flock currently showed signs of lameness caused by footrot.
When asked about monetary savings or gain as a result of the elimination of footrot from their farm, the producers responded:
Producer A comment – I have eliminated the labor costs of three people working ten days a year (240 man hours) just dealing with footrot issues.
Producer B comment – I estimate that I have saved from $400 to $500.
Producer C comment – I can’t give you a number, however, the cost for us in labor, lost sales of breeding stock, etc. was too high to continue in the sheep business. It was either get rid of the footrot or get rid of the sheep.
All three participating farmers believe they will save money by following the footrot prevention and control protocol now and in the future. One hundred percent of the farmers felt that preventing footrot is now a more important part of their procedure in dealing with this disease.
The research team is thrilled with the effort and outcome of our work in 2010. We are also very pleased that several sheep producers from the region are already submitting applications for participation in 2011.
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University of Maine Cooperative Extension
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Ohio State University
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