Reducing Flock Lameness Prior To Breeding

18 September 2020

This year’s sheep breeding season is fast approaching and carrying out lameness checks now is a valuable opportunity to prevent any negative effect on the animal’s health and welfare which will have direct effects on farm profitability.

Lameness at this time of year can have one of the biggest financial impacts on flock performance, as lame ewes will have loss of appetite which in turn will have negative consequences on breeding target condition score and subsequently on fertility and productivity.

Additionally, ram lameness will greatly inhibit the ram’s ability to service ewes. Furthermore, lameness creates a major cost on sheep farms in terms of labour time and money spent on products to treat the condition.

The two most common causes of lameness on sheep farms are scald and footrot. The first step in controlling lameness in the breeding flock is to correctly identify the condition.


Scald occurs between the hooves and is usually red or pink in colour and moist, sometimes displaying a white discharge. There is no smell or involvement on the hoof itself and sheep become lame very quickly. Wet conditions predispose the skin between the hooves to an outbreak of scald. Regular footbathing can help prevent scalds.


Footrot is an extremely painful condition and affected sheep can lose weight rapidly. Sheep with footrot are very lame, lie down for long periods and may not bear weight on the affected leg.  Footrot causes a swelling and moistening of the skin between the claws with infection spreading to separate the horn tissue of the sole and extend up the wall if not spotted quickly. Footrot can be easily identified by its foul-smelling discharge.


Another cause of lameness that may occur is Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD. It causes lesions/ ulcers in the coronary band area of the hoof, where the hoof wall meets the hair and can cause the horn of the hoof to fall off. CODD is highly contagious and if identified a veterinary surgeon should be called to confirm a CODD Diagnosis and give advice on products for treatment.

Footcare control measures

When carrying out the usual soundness for breeding checks on the ewe flock and breeding rams the following measures should be taken

  • Identification: A critical step in preventing lameness is the identification of all lame sheep, with regular checks particularly prior to the breeding season. Identifying the cause of lameness must be established. Lame ewes will be less likely to stand for the ram at mating.
  • Ram checks: Prior to breeding rams feet should be in good order, with no evidence of previous infections. Rams locomotion should be observed and correct. Rams brisket should be examined for scores, which may indicate excessive lying from lameness.
  • Separation: Lame sheep should be separated from the flock immediately to reduce the risk of spreading infection.
  •  Treatment: All lame sheep must be treated effectively. Consult with your vet to establish a treatment plan for lame sheep and only reintroduce them to the main flock when fully cleared up.
  • Prevention: A flock health plan should be prepared with appropriate veterinary and/or technical advice and updated annually, this should include, regular footbathing, rotational grazing, vaccination if required, good hygiene practices particularly when housed indoors.
  • Cull: Any sheep within a flock that have reoccurring lameness issues, post appropriate treatment should be culled. It’s essential to keep records to identify reoccurring problem sheep.
  • Quarantine: Any sheep entering the flock including breeding rams, should be quarantined and observed to avoid the introduction of infections into the current flock.
  • Vaccination: Vaccination has been proven to be successful in the reduction of footrot.
  • Nutritional solutions: The supplementation of a good mineral pack including highly bioavailable minerals such as Intellibond zinc and biotin will ensure good hoof integrity.


by Sally Duffy, TN Ireland Technical