Club Cowra

Cowra Local Livestock Health Update - Virulent Footrot

Written by: The Cowra Phoenix

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Photo Source: Local Land Services. Keep an eye on your flock to prevent a Foot Rot Outbreak

In the current spring conditions, there wouldn’t be many sheep producers across the district who aren’t experiencing some degree of lameness in their flock.

On most farms this lameness will be caused by scald (also known as Ovine Interdigital Dermatitis), foot abscess or benign footrot. However, we do have cases of virulent footrot still being diagnosed in our district.

Virulent footrot, like benign footrot, is caused by a specific bacteria, Dicelobacter nodosus. Virulent footrot causes serious production losses and has devastating impacts on the welfare of infected sheep. Benign footrot on the other hand is caused by less aggressive strains, and while it will cause a significant lameness in spring conditions, it will never progress to severe disease.

The first myth I’d like dispel is that virulent footrot is a disease of poor management. This is untrue.

Virulent footrot is a bacteria that is carried in the foot of infected sheep and can be introduced into your flock by a single sheep.

The footrot bacteria thrives in wet conditions (50mm/month), good ground cover (especially clover) and temperatures between 10-20 degrees. It is in these conditions that the bacteria will do the most damage to the foot of the sheep and spread easily within the flock.

There is a chink in the armour of the footrot bacteria - it isn’t very good at surviving outside the foot of the sheep. It can only survive for a maximum of 7 days on the ground.

The first step if you suspect you have a problem, is to contact your District Vet and get them to make a diagnosis.

In NSW, virulent Footrot is a notifiable disease. This just means you need to work with your District Vet to develop a plan to eradicate virulent footrot from your flock, and take reasonable measures to stop the disease spreading further. There are two main options for eradication. You can do a program where sheep are tipped up several times and infected sheep are removed. The other alternative is to destock and wait 7 days for any bacteria in the ground to die. After 7 days, you can go ahead and restock.

Eradication programs are designed to be done in the hot, dry summer months when the footrot bacteria is not as active and spread between sheep is unlikely. While the last few summers have not been great, the forecast for the coming months looks very promising for any producers looking to complete a footrot eradication program.

If you are worried about an issue in your flock now is the time to get your problem diagnosed. If it is virulent footrot, we can work with you to develop a program for the upcoming summer now.

NSW DPI and AWI have developed a great guide on footrot and its management in NSW. Its available online here - https://www.wool.com/globalassets/wool/sheep/welfare/footrot/gd2008_nsw-2022-sc_a5-booklet_footrot_3_hr.pdf

There are also hard copies available at the Cowra Local Land Services office.

If you would like further information or to chat about any animal health issues, please contact your local District Veterinarian. Em Johnstone (0419 334 077) or 1300 795 299.

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