Foot bathing facilities must be fit for purpose

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Foot bathing will have no impact whatsoever on lameness levels within sheep flocks unless the facilities used are fit for purpose, according to veterinary consultant Dr Fiona Lovett.

Speaking at the Teagasc National Sheep Conference in Trim, she pointed out that zinc and formalin are the active ingredients of choice for foot baths.

“I know that bluestone is used for foot bathing purposes throughout Ireland,” she said.

“However, flockowners with Texel sheep should be aware of the health related issues for this breed when using copper. There is also a heightened awareness of the toxicity issues relating to the use of copper in the UK. Formalin should not be used at concentrations above 3%.

“In order to maximise the impact of foot bathing, it is important to clean the feet of sheep before they come into contact with the active chemical. This can be achieved by pre hosing or having a pre-bath containing clean water.

“Sheep should be allowed to rest on hard standing for a few minutes after foot bathing. Simply allowing them to go back out to pasture will have the effect of washing away the active footbath chemical.”

Lovett confirmed that foot bathing, while helping to prevent lameness in sheep, should not be regarded as a cure for footrot.

“Ewes with clinical footrot must be treated with the appropriate antibiotic. If the same ewe presents with this problem on more than two occasions, the animal should be culled from the flock as soon as she is sound.

“Footrot is an inheritable disorder. Ewes that demonstrate chronic symptoms should not be used for breeding purposes.”

Lovett also pointed out that feeding points and those areas that are most trafficked on the farm are focal points for the spread of footrot infection.

“The campylobacter bacterium, responsible for footrot, cannot survive in high pH conditions. As a consequence there is strong merit in spreading lime around feed troughs, gateways and other areas on-farm that are heavily trafficked by sheep,” she said.