Lamb Production

Lack of consistent interstate footrot policies is major hurdle

Sheep Central, October 3, 2016


A LACK of consistent footrot policy between states was the major hurdle in eradicating the virulent form of the disease from Australian sheep flocks, according to veterinarian Dr John Plant.

Dr Plant told the recent Australian Sheep Veterinarians Conference in Dubbo there have been several attempts at establishing consistent footrot policy over the past 40 years, but little has been achieved.

“Unless these differences can be overcome, then I believe the gains that have been made by the industry will be lost.

“The major hurdle to overcome the eradication of virulent footrot from Australian sheep flocks is the lack of consistent policy between states, especially with regard to diagnosis,” he said.

“We need key people in each state to co-ordinate the eradication programs for virulent footrot and to provide the technical support needed by field vets in problem flocks.”

The conference was told that prior to 1988, regulations in Australia to control footrot had achieved very little. Since this time, despite the introduction of more sophisticated programs, only less virulent strains of the disease have been eradicated.

Dr John Plant outlined the various footrot programs that have been used in New South Wales to control footrot and some of the issues that need to be addressed to try and eradicate it.

“Many of the regulatory programs that have been available in New South Wales have included techniques that have led to the eradication of virulent footrot in over 6000 flocks in NSW, but many of these techniques have not been applied in other states,” he said.

In 1983, the NSW Department of Agriculture established a technical and advisory program that was developed by a committee of key stakeholders – including veterinarians, sheep producers, producer organisations, chemical companies, vaccine manufacturers and advisory staff.

“They developed programs to promote the correct use of new vaccines and antibiotics and co-ordinated the messages being delivered to sheep owners and their advisors.

“This ensured that a consistent message was being provided,” Dr Plant said.

“This program resulted in many producers changing their approach, using foot bathing and vaccines to control the spread during spring and then attempting to cure infected sheep with antibiotics in the drier summer months.”

According to Dr Plant, there are opportunities to reduce the number of infected properties to a very low level but will require attention to a number of issues, including education and research to address:

Low virulence strains – there is less information available on this type of strain

Benign footrot – creates problems with differentiation from virulent footrot

Diagnosis of virulent footrot in the flock is a problem because of the different criteria used in different states

Training – the loss of field vets who have had experience in the eradication of the disease

Movements of infected sheep from interstate

There have been claims made for magic bullets in relation to diagnostic techniques and vaccines, but unfortunately, some of the claims made have the effect of delaying action to eradicate the disease from the flock while farmers wait for the new magic cure, the conference was told.

Source: Australian Sheep Veterinarians – a special interest group of the Australian Veterinary Association.



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  1. Craig Mitchell, October 7, 2016

    A discussion on footrot policy in NSW
    What do we, as sheep producers, think or see, in our mind, when virulent footrot is mentioned? Personally, I see sheep on their knees, fly-blown feet, under-running right across the sole of the foot and up the side, a mess, an animal welfare issue and therefore an economic or production issue to the owner of those sheep. Is this what we see on the Monaro? No way, not even close.
    Some twenty years ago, how we, the sheep industry, define footrot, was changed. Before then we had three definitions of footrot; benign, intermediate and virulent. We then removed the ‘intermediate’ definition and put them into ‘virulent’. This was an understandable move. There is a lot of “grey” area around what was ‘intermediate’ and what was ‘virulent’. So let’s move it all into ‘virulent’. Problem solved? Maybe not.
    Why do we quarantine flocks with ‘virulent’ footrot? The answer is, to protect other NSW sheep producers from an animal welfare and therefore an economic/production disaster. In order to diagnose footrot, it needs to express itself. So by definition, if it is not expressing itself as virulent, it is not virulent. The problem here becomes, different footrots express differently. The drier the country, the less a footrot expresses. The wetter the country, the more that footrot expresses itself. A footrot in crossbred sheep expresses differently than the same footrot in Merino sheep. A footrot may be ‘benign’ in crossbred sheep, but termed ‘virulent’ in Merino sheep running in the same paddock. So, how a single strain of footrot (there are heaps and heaps of strains) expresses itself, depends upon the environment in which it is living.
    What happens on the Monaro? After a series fantastic seasons, all the diagnosed ‘virulent’ footrot properties are in higher rainfall areas. These footrots needed a long time to become what is being termed ‘virulent’. They are what I would call “slow-moving” footrots. Are these footrots an animal welfare issue? Only occasionally, when we have long wet periods.
    Do these “slow-moving” footrots cause a problem elsewhere in NSW? Sheep have been moving off the Monaro for years and have caused, to my knowledge, no problems.
    Do these slow-moving footrots cause an economic or production issue to Monaro farmers? Only because we, as an industry, impose a “quarantine and eradicate” program on them. Sounds a bit like the original OJD program.
    If some footrots express in one environment and not others, how can we hope to eradicate these forms of footrot from the NSW sheep flock? How, as an industry, can we ask people to spend tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars eradicating a footrot from their farm that could well be endemic in the rest of the NSW sheep flock?
    Surely, if these footrots are not causing an animal welfare issue on a farm, but we as an industry fear what it may do elsewhere, we as an industry should be paying for the eradication program on those farms. I believe, we as an industry should compensate those sheep producers affected by our policy or change the policy.
    Victoria does not worry about these forms of footrot. Does their policy compromise profitability? New Zealand does not worry about these forms of footrot. Their sheep industry seems very robust.

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