New South Wales committee set to fight sheep footrot spread

Terry Sim, July 12, 2021

Incoming chair of the NSW Footrot Steering Committee, Derek Schoen, aims to improve footrot management outcomes in sheep flocks across the state.

INCREASING footrot infections in some New South Wales sheep areas have led to the formation of a new producer-led steering committee to help develop a plan to fight the spread.

NSW Department of Primary Industries today announced the new NSW Footrot Steering Committee will provide ongoing oversight and strategic direction to the NSW Footrot Management Program.

Incoming chair of the NSW Footrot Steering Committee, Derek Schoen, said the aim is to improve the outcomes of footrot management in sheep flocks across the state and a major role of the committee will be to achieve national definitions for virulent and benign footrot.

Mr Schoen said had the prevalence of footrot has increased in some areas with the better seasonal conditions since the drought.

“With a lot of people scrambling to increase stock (numbers), we have seen an increase in footrot outbreaks and we want to get on top of it and get some policy positions in place to assist the industry in managing this animal husbandry disease and its potential production loss.”

Mr Schoen said footrot prevalence varied across the state, was higher in high rainfall areas. His region, Murray Local Land Services, with probably the state’s second highest sheep numbers, had 18 affected flocks or a prevalence of about 1.6pc. There were 21 affected flocks in the Central Tablelands region or a prevalence of 1.2pc.

“As you would understand, with the movement of stock, that could very quickly balloon out, so we want to make sure we keep it under control and keep it manageable.”

Mr Schoen said the prevalence of footrot in the state is “slightly increasing”, although the committee is waiting for the latest figures to see where the problem areas are.

The footrot status of the peri-urban flocks around Sydney which might lack Property Identify Codes and trade sheep through online sites without “an eye for biosecurity” was also a concern.

“We really don’t know the prevalence out there and that is also a potential risk.”

Committee’s top role will be a national definition for footrot

Mr Schoen said the committee’s “number one” role will be getting a national definition for footrot, with each state having different definitions for benign and virulent footrot.

“It manifests itself in different ways in different ways in different areas.

“It is important that we identify the difference between our geographic regions.”

He said there were enormously varying opinions as to what should be classified as footrot and definitions varied between the states.

“We don’t have any national agreement on what we should be calling footrot.

“I think it is important that we get a national consensus on what we are going to determine as footrot,” Mr Schoen said.

“Until we can get a recognition of what we are going to call footrot, it is very hard to move forward.”

Mr Schoen said some states do not take footrot as seriously as New South Wales and some states claimed it didn’t exist in their flocks.

“It really is buyer beware when purchasing stock from interstate and it is important to get an animal health statement to ensure you are buying clean stock or have some come-back if you do have a problem.

“It’s also vitally important to quarantine stock before you run them out with any other sheep.”

Mr Schoen said the Murray LLS region’s location along the river border with Victoria and its footrot prevalence statistics “speak for themselves” and indicate that interstate sheep movement was “most probably” an issue for the state.

Getting on the front foot

Mr Schoen said the committee would be working on a strategic plan for footrot aimed at strengthening New South Wale’s biosecurity to lessen the effect of footrot in the state.

“We’re trying to get on the front foot here … and not a rotten one.”

New FSC members joining Mr Schoen, a southern Riverina sheep producer and former NSW Farmers’ Association president, are sheep producers Scott Watkins (Finley), Craig Mitchell (Cooma), Will Martel (Wellington) and Jock Fletcher (Walcha), three Local Land Services representatives and a delegate of the CVO from NSW DPI. NSW DPI senior veterinary officer, Amanda Walker, will serve as the executive officer.

“(The) Committee members have demonstrated a strategic approach to farming, an ability to resolve competing priorities and practical knowledge in dealing with footrot,” Mr Schoen said.

“Their skills and expertise will help inform the NSW Footrot Strategic Plan and provide advice to the NSW Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), who has responsibility for the footrot program.”

Technical advice and analysis to support a strategic approach to footrot management will be delivered by a newly reinstated Footrot Technical Committee, which last operated in 2009.

Mr Schoen said the new committee will serve a three-year term and aims to build on the success of the NSW FSC, which was formed in 1988. The previous committee has not met regularly since 2009, he said.

“By 2009, the whole of NSW was declared a Footrot Protected Area with virulent footrot prevalence of less than 1 percent, which was one of the goals of the original strategic plan,” he said.

“The footrot program is recognised as a positive example of the results which can be achieved when industry and government work in partnership.

“We thank the outgoing chair and committee members for their commitment to the management of footrot in NSW.”

NSW footrot prevalence remains below 1pc

A NSW DPI spokesman said a review of the strategic direction of the footrot program in NSW was undertaken to look at ways the committee could be structured to best serve our state’s sheep producers.

“As a result, a new committee was formed, with increased sheep producer and Local Land Services representation.

“The previous NSW Footrot Steering Committee continued to function up until the transition to the newly structured committee.”

The spokesman said the prevalence of footrot in NSW remains less than one percent; however, case numbers can vary depending on seasonal conditions.

“Following a flood event or wet season, producers typically report an increase in footrot, which is then managed and control under the NSW footrot program, while in drier times there is generally a reduction of cases.

“There can be delays in expression and therefore detection of footrot in a flock or herd, making it very difficult to determine the single cause of an outbreak,” he said.

“Many changes to the sheep industry have occurred since the initiation of the original program in 1988 with a different flock demographic, expression of disease and management.

“The new committee, led by Derek Schoen, will provide ongoing oversight and strategic direction to the NSW Footrot Management Program, which includes reviewing the current NSW Footrot Strategic Plan to assess if it is meeting the needs of NSW sheep and goat producers in the current environment.”

Information about footrot and its management is available from the NSW DPI website, and LLS.


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  1. Peter Small, July 15, 2021

    The Western District of Victoria was once renowned as the home of footrot; conditions are perfect for footrot most of the time. To my knowledge, virulent footrot is virtually a non-issue today. Can the rest of Australia learn from the Western District experience?

    • Doug Wright, July 17, 2021

      Footrot can be dealt with, but it takes a big commitment by all involved.
      The Central Tablelands area of NSW got down to eight places in quarantine, with a high level of checking and a regulatory framework to keep working on it.
      However, with an easing of surveillance the number of infections got out to the high 30s and thus the excellent work/cooperation/financial input was undone. I hear the number is back to 22 now.
      I would like to know the brief of the new steering committee. I hope that they look at the history of footrot control in NSW and get the full background of what works.
      I remember our district vet at Carcoar saying: “the only way to eradicate footrot is the diesel principle; ie diesel in truck, sheep on truck, truck to abattoir”.
      I look forward to work of the committee and to see if progress can be made on a problem that was being well-handled, but then let up on.

  2. Doug Wright, July 13, 2021

    The formation of a new producer led steering committee begs the question: What has gone on in the last 10 to 12 years in NSW?
    It appears that those charged with footrot prevention, control and eradication had either downgraded the significance of the disease or somehow have been told to put less emphasis on it.
    In NSW, the work on footrot was done by pasture protection boards which later were re-branded as RLPB. The boards in high prevalence areas employed full-time footrot officers and in conjunction with board vets worked tirelessly to inspect sheep, identify infected properties and put in place a control and eradication program. This proved to be highly successful across the state. All of this involved a lot of work hours and a cost to ratepayers, but the results were outstanding. However, to keep on top of the problem required continual inspection, saleyard visits, stock movement tracing and property quarantine.
    If you do not look, you do not find.
    For footrot control to be effective it will require a big effort to be well-resourced and will need serious leadership. Anything less will not be good enough.
    I was fortunate to be a director of the Carcoar and then Central Tablelands boards for 18 years. It is a sad situation to see the wonderful work of the staff involved being undone by a policy that obviously has neglected the problem.

  3. Steve McGuire, July 13, 2021

    Well done Derek for taking on the challenge of a national definition for footrot. Good Luck.
    No state takes virulent footrot more seriously than Western Australia. WA has a footrot control program funded by a sheep and goat transaction levy.
    Virulent footrot is defined in WA using a laboratory (PCR) test, not by clinical signs, which are affected by the prevailing environment. In a dry year, WA can have no virulent footrot under the NSW definition, as no sheep develop symptoms bad enough, but we know it’s there. Therefore, the PCR test.
    The PCR test is very sensitive; only needing a scrap of DNA. This allows you to possibly detect a virulent strain even when no obvious symptoms are present, therefore not relying on a suitable environment for the disease to express itself.
    While you rely on a definition that is determined as much by the prevailing environment rather than virulence of the footrot strain you will never effectively control it.

  4. Jim Gordon, July 13, 2021

    What a wonderful thing to reboot a committee to combat this debilitating disease in sheep and crippling human emotions.
    Derek Schoen, you have my full support with this producer-led steering committee. Try to be as helpful and supportive to the grower who has the problem. It is bad enough for the grower to deal with the fact; they are regarded as second class citizens, but then have to deal with a financial hit as well.
    The other thing, be very diligent about stopping the committee becoming top heavy in administration. This statement should be framed and hung on the wall, and I quote: “To look at ways the committee could be structured to best serve our sheep producers.” NSW DPI is a terrific organisation if left alone to do their job. Allow them to be truthful without the threat of being sacked.

  5. Martin Oppenheimer, July 12, 2021

    Did I miss something … no mention of using genomics to breed sheep that are resistant to footrot?

    • Donald Cameron, July 13, 2021

      Genomics is not on the menu of the muppets and the shadow chairman’s puppets. Once upon a time there was a man in the mirror.

    • Steve McGuire, July 13, 2021

      Wool Producers Australia is helping to fund a research project by Andrew Thompson and Mark Ferguson to develop an Australian Sheep Breeding Value for footrot resistance. This project extends work that Mark has done in New Zealand, which used Australian Merino sires.

      • Martin Oppenheimer, July 14, 2021

        AWI research missing in action once again?
        Is genomics too modern for the traditionalists? “Too many figures…”

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