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.