Eliminating the effects of footrot on sheep flocks in the Northeast
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/or 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 lead this three-year long, applied research project. In 2012, the team continued to address the disease by educating producers about the causes, treatment, management and preventative techniques including the use of genetic selection to develop footrot-free flocks. Four more sheep producers from the region were added to the existing eleven producers as participants in this research project – making a total of 15 participating farms. Biosecurity was identified from the start as an important aspect in preventing the disease. Participating farms have been expected to implement a customized biosecurity plan.
To date, the team has evaluated and scored the feet of approximately 1,000 sheep from the fifteen participating farms and collected blood samples. DNA from these samples was evaluated for predictive markers of footrot resistance. In 2011, the team began working with two sheep genome experts, Dr. Noelle Cockett and Dr. Stephen White, who are based in Utah and Washington state respectively. Initial genotypying has been completed on 85 animals using the Ovine SNP50 marker set that includes over 50,000+ single nucleotide markers. Preliminary analysis is underway and the results appear promising for additional genotyping and further genetic analysis.
In 2012, a two-part webinar on small ruminant foot health was presented in February with 40 and 32 producers participating respectively. One hundred percent of the participants found the webinars useful. In addition, an on-line template for producers to write a biosecurity plan for their own farm was promoted and made available.
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).
Not all milestones for this project have been fully achieved. However, a few milestones are nearing achievement namely the number of participating farms in the project (fifteen out of the projected twenty) and the establishment of an advisory team. All fifteen participants from six states have actively participated and provided feedback and advice to the research team via phone conversations, email communications and annual electronic surveys.
Attempts to reach sheep farms in all twelve of the northeast states occurred in 2012 via email blitzes through state sheep association contacts, the American Sheep Industry email list, Extension sheep specialists and blogs. Our Internet records show that 4,103 people viewed the project website in 2012. Approximately 10 farms around the northeast submitted applications to participate in this applied research project for 2012. Four farms were selected to participate via the written application and phone interviews. The sheep farms selected for 2012 were located in Maine, Massachusetts and New York and comprised a total of approximately 225 sheep representing at least 4 different sheep breeds. Members of the research team made two visits to each of the four farms (approximately 28 days apart) to evaluate, trim, treat and score each sheep’s feet. A tip table was transported to the farms and utilized for efficiency and safety to handlers. Blood samples were drawn from all sheep from each farm at one of the visits. Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner lead the efforts in blood drawing and sample handling. The visits were scheduled at points during the grazing season (from May to November) when environmental conditions of temperature and moisture were more apt to be conducive for foot problems to be exhibited. Each producer actively participated in all aspects of the work when the team was on their farm. In addition, the producers implemented the weekly protocol activities three times on their own when the team was not present. They learned more about foot scald and footrot. Participants understood the protocol and learned how to properly trim hooves, evaluate and score hooves, mix and provide foot bath treatment and make culling decisions related to foot health. The participating producers were surveyed at the end of the year to determine the effectiveness of the work and actions. Results on the farm and within the flock to eliminate footrot were positive as presented in the year-end survey.
Dr. Stephen White a research geneticist in the Animal Disease Research Unit of the Agricultural Research Service, USDA and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology at Washington State University participated in the project in 2012 by analyzing the DNA submitted to him. Dr. White’s research group uses both molecular and quantitative approaches to identify genetic factors involved in the host genetics of infectious disease and is participating with us by receiving and handling DNA samples from this SARE project. Dr. Noelle Cockett of Utah State University was also integral in helping the team to design this third year of applied research and select the appropriate breeds and number of sheep needed.
In addition to the research-related work, team member and Sheep and Goat Specialist, Susan Schoenian of Maryland Extension became more involved in the educational aspects of the project. This year, she co-presented with Richard Brzozowski, a two-session webinar for sheep and goat producers on foot heath. In addition, the biosecurity section of the Sheep Foot Health Research & Education website received 891 page views in 2012 and an article comparing footrot and foot scald on the web site http://umaine.edu/sheep/foot-rot/foot-rot-or-scald/ has received 414 page views.
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. Our Internet records show that the homepage for this project http://umaine.edu/sheep/ was viewed by 4,103 individuals in 2012.
Items such as a streaming video on proper foot trimming and an online quiz on foot health is a part of the project web site. The video “How to Prevent Sheep Foot Rot” has been viewed 9,643 times since it was posted to YouTube on Feb. 28, 2011. In addition, more emphasis on educational outreach to producers is planned for 2013 with articles and informational fact sheets.
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. This milestone is coming to fruition. The biosecurity section of the Sheep Foot Health Research & Education website received 891 pageviews in 2012. A template for sheep and goat producers to create their own customized biosecurity plan was put into use in early 2012. Susan Schoenian of Maryland and Richard Brzozowski of Maine worked with programmer John Dorner of North Carolina in developing such an online biosecurity template. The availability of this free tool was announced in early 2012 in blogs and newsletters designed to reach sheep and goat producers across the country.
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. To date fifteen producers (3 in 2010; 8 in 2011, and 4 in 2012) from six northeast states continue to participate in this project. The number of sheep handled, scored and from which data was collected and blood sampled is approximately 1,000.
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. The project has not yet established an official advisory team for the project. However, members of the research team has conversed openly with and sought feedback from all participating farmers in the project. Our hope is to hold a meeting of participating producers via conference call in Spring 2013 to identify additional needs and to measure the success of the project to date. As a side note, the members of the research team (5 individuals) have met by phone on several occasions throughout 2012 to discuss current situations related to the project.
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 end of the project. The research team believes the foundation for this milestone has been laid over the first three years of the project. This is evident by the level of interest in this project to date by sheep producers (visits to the project web site and individual inquiries).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In December 2012, producers from all fifteen participating farms were asked to complete an electronic survey. Thirteen of the fifteen producers responded. Over 92 percent of the respondents were now very confident in identifying footrot symptoms in their flock. Over 92% felt their confidence in identifying footrot increased as a result of their participation in this project. Over 92% of the respondents have implemented a biosecurity plan for their farm. Most farms were footrot free. However in December, a few of the producers stated via the year-end survey that they still have some sheep that are showing signs of lameness. These situations will be immediately followed up to determine an explanation for the lameness.
Following are comments of participants when asked to describe changes to their flock and management as a result of their participation in this applied research project.
“We immediately pull any animal with a foot problem and take appropriate action. If footrot is suspect, the animal is quarantined and successfully treated or culled. We have zero tolerance for foot problems.”
“We are very careful about people entering the sheep area with footpaths handy for all. Also we got two new rams this year and put them on quarantine for 6 weeks with a footbath used leaving their area by everyone.”
“We now make soaking in zinc sulfate part of routine trimming.”
Below are additional comments from different sheep producers regarding their participation in this applied research project
“Time was the biggest cost for treating footrot in our flock before the study. Before this project, we spent several hours a week treating affected sheep.”
“This was one of the best program’s funded by SARE – it should be funded on a continuous basis for the benefit of the industry.”
“The project was very informative and aspects from it will be implemented on our farm. More frequent foot trimming and spring/fall foot baths or as needed will be provided. I heard from more people this year that they had issues. I would be interested in knowing if the weather played a part or if it is spreading now in a new way.”
“It is hard to feel pride in your efforts if only one sheep is on her knees grazing or limping. No matter your efforts, it is a communicable disease that is difficult to control even staying on top of it–if the flock is infected. We really tried. Now we have all relaxed somewhat in no longer “expecting” a limper.”
“I can’t say enough positive about this program. It has greatly helped us improve the management of our flock. It helped us control the existing problems and taught us how to prevent and deal with any future foot situations. The research data collection stands to give additional insights in the future. We are thankful for the opportunity to participate and work beside true professionals.”
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