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Footrot Eradication Program for Sheep

by Jeff Hunter, October 16, 1996

Over the years I have often had sheep producers ask me for help in treating footrot problems. Many producers think it is impossible to be free of footrot and are frustrated with the labor and cost involved with an on-going treatment program. Hopefully this article will help your flock attain the status of 'footrot free'.

Eradication of footrot is possible, it does require some management and timely labor to achieve total eradication. Our own flock of 200 ewes has been footrot free since 1988, and we have never had another case of footrot. We have not had to footbathe and rarely even trim feet now. This article covers the steps necessary to eradicate footrot.

Reasons to eradicate footrot:

Many shepherds have resigned themselves to an on going footrot treatment program. These programs are very expensive (footbaths, labor, antibiotics, etc) and take time away from other activities. The tremendous amount of labor spent on treating footrot is reason enough to want to get rid of it. Capital costs such as zinc sulfate (for baths), topical treatments, vaccinations, and antibiotics often cost $10-$30.00 per ewe per year. Ewe and lamb performance can be reduced by 10-50% depending upon the degree of severity of the footrot. This eradication program will require intensive labor and management for several weeks- but will nearly totally eliminate future labor associated with a control program.

Background Information:

Remember footrot is caused by the interaction of two bacteria, Bacteria nodosus and Fusobacterium necorophorum. B. nodosus is the bacteria responsible for the contagious disease 'footrot'. The bacteria F. necrophum lives in the soil and causes a breakdown of the tissues of the foot, this allows B. nodosus entry into the foot, thus causing 'footrot'. The eradication program eliminates the presence of B. nodosus in the soil and in the sheep. Without the bacteria B. nodosus there cannot be any footrot. This is why we can have our own sheep flock on wet heavy soils and still see no footrot after nearly 14 years.

The Program:

At this point we assume that since you have footrot you have been treating some of the animals in the flock and may also have been vaccinating for footrot. We also assume that you have confirmed that the problem is indeed footrot and not foot abscesses. The best time to eradicate footrot is during the summer.

STEP 1: Bring up the entire flock, trim all feet, separate into two groups; a 'clean' group and an 'infected group'. Any sheep that has footrot today gets put in the 'infected' group. The sheep with footrot should be injected with LA 200(10 cc, 2 sites, per adult), and their feet topically treated. The topical treatment can be 7% iodine or undiluted formaldehyde* (* the formaldehyde will kill all bacteria on contact- great care must be exercised in using this product so as not to splash on yourself) . Footbathe all sheep. Footbath Soak - is 8 lbs fine zinc sulfate mixed with 10 gallons of water and 1 cup of laundry or dish soap. Footbathe the groups separately, run the 'clean' group thru the handling system first. The soak should keep all feet totally submerged for a minimum of 20 minutes. (longer soaks of up to an hour are good).

STEP 2: The two groups must remain totally separate. The clean group goes to a pasture or lot/barn that has not had any sheep on it for at least 30 days. It is an absolute must that this 'clean' group go to a clean pasture and not be exposed to other sheep. The 'infected' group should also go to a clean pasture, but they can go back to the original pasture that the flock was on prior to separating if you have no other place to put them.

STEP 3: Repeat foot soaks and inspections- Twice a week for 8 weeks (12 weeks is better) you should run each group (separately) thru the zinc sulfate footbath. Inspect feet once each week, trim and treat as needed.

(a) 'Clean' group: The clean group should be foot soaked twice a week, one of these times inspect their feet, to make sure they are still 'clean'. Continue for at least 8 weeks (12 weeks is better).

(b) 'Infected' group: This group will also have two foot soaks per week for twelve weeks, at one of these times inspect feet, trim and treat as needed. Keep a record of each animal with footrot and which feet are infected. You need to know if an animal can be re-infected after being healed. You also need to identify the chronic carriers in the flock and cull these. If an animal has 12 clean inspections (6 weeks)- they join the 'clean' group. The size of the infected group shrinks as the program goes on.

STEP 4: Program conclusion- Any and all animals that still have footrot must be culled. The best thing for you and your flock is to cull the 'still infected' , 'chronic', and 'repeat' animals. No matter who they are they must go- in order to prevent the flock from becoming re-infected. You must also cull any animal with a 'repeat' infection. (An animal that recovered from footrot, but became reinfected more than once over the 12 week period).

STEP 5: Close the flock- to prevent re-infection. Do not share rams, trailers or equipment with other flocks. For best results any sheep that are shown or consigned to sales should never return home. If you show or must buy outside sheep; quarantine new arrivals in a different area; trim, foot soak and inspect for 30 days minimum before allowing them to join the flock. Do not allow new additions or re-introductions to the flock to contaminate soil that the flock may be exposed to in the future. A separate quarantine facility or farm is ideal. If this is not possible- let the quarantine area stand empty for at least 60 days after clean up and disinfection.

Author’s Comments:

This program is not easy, but it works. Before you start on it you need to be prepared to cull those sheep still infected with footrot at the end of the program. We eradicated footrot in 1988 and closed our flock. At this publication time, (June 2001) we are still 100% free of foot scald and foot rot. We do not even have to foot trim. We eliminated the two organisms from the soil of our farms and have remained footrot free.

Staying a 100% ’Closed’ flock with absolutely no animals coming in has been key to our flock staying footrot free, 14 years after footrot was eradicated.

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