Lameness, particularly footrot, is a major health and welfare concern in UK sheep flocks, where lame sheep are a considerable economic burden. Over the past two decades, great advancements have been made in our understanding of the aetiology and pathogenesis of infectious lameness, contributing towards the refinement of best-practice recommendations to treat and control footrot in sheep. Despite the reductions in lameness prevalence seen today, much headway still needs to be made in reducing and controlling infectious lameness in UK flocks.
Through a mixed-methods approach, my PhD aims to investigate UK farmer uptake of a national programme to reduce lameness in sheep, the Five-Point Plan (5PP), and to qualitatively explore farmers’ perceptions and attitudes towards this plan. I also look to update our current estimate of sheep lameness prevalence and to further determine the risk factors associated with lameness. One important aspect of the 5PP, culling ewes with chronically misshapen hooves, will also be the focus of a longitudinal study on four commercial sheep flocks over 12 months. Four hundred ewes will be hoof conformation scored over four time points, and alongside the collection of bacterial DNA, will provide further understanding to the relationship between hoof conformation and lameness. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggesting of a benefit of footrot vaccination, an integral part of the 5PP in establishing flock immunity, on hoof structure and integrity will also be explored.
The ultimate aim of my research is to positively contribute towards the evidence-base surrounding lameness in sheep, in order to inform the refinement of best-practice advice on lameness control and so to reduce the occurrence of the disease.
Director of Studies:
Dr Malgorzata Behnke (Harper Adams University)