Counting the cost of lameness in sheep

Establishing a treatment and prevention strategy can help you curb the cost of lameness. Find out how to monitor the impact and keep lameness levels low.

Back to: Reducing lameness in sheep

Counting the losses

For flocks with 10% or more lame sheep, footrot losses alone equate to £6.35 per ewe, per year. Losses for flocks with 5% or less lameness are £3.90 per ewe per year. This figure was worked out from data collected from 162 farmers in England as part of a survey conducted by the University of Warwick  to investigate the cost-benefit of different management strategies and time spent managing lameness. Losses from all causes of lameness will be far higher.

Seriously affected sheep are easy to spot because they hobble or ‘kneel’. However, even mild cases of footrot or contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD) are infectious, so early treatment is vital. 

As well as financial losses through impaired performance, increased prevention, treatment cost, culling and so on, lameness also has implications for animal welfare.

Set targets to manage the cost

In Great Britain, the level of lameness in flocks varies according to season and management. Farmers who have comprehensively managed lameness achieve levels as low as 2%. In 2011, the Farm Animal Welfare Council recommended that the level of lameness in flocks should be down to 5% by 2016 and 2% by 2021, using currently available management practices.

Top tips

  • Identify the number of lame sheep within your flock
  • Use this as the base level against which improvements can be measured 
  • Establish a treatment and prevention strategy with your vet
  • Set an achievable target

Responsible antibiotic use

Estimates suggest that one-third of all antibiotics used in sheep flocks in the UK are used for lameness. All treatments should be agreed beforehand with your veterinary surgeon. Not all drugs are appropriate for every condition so you could be wasting time and money. Plus, animal welfare could be compromised if you use the wrong product.

Read more about treating lameness in sheep as part of the five-point plan.

Useful links

Lameness in sheep: the five-point plan

Diseases that cause lameness in sheep