The end of tupping and the coming onset of lambing are exciting times, with the high expectations that come with the use of new genetics and a new breeding season. But while there is an obvious need to focus on the next crop of sheep it is also a good time to reflect on past issues and try to eliminate these in future generations.
One problem where action can be taken and relatively rapid progress made is on lameness, with a relatively small number of sheep often the source of significant infection problems for the remainder of the flock.
In this respect it is important breeders put in place an effective lameness control and management policy, where possible culling repeatedly lame sheep and avoiding breeding from their descendants.
The influence of lameness on flock productivity should not be forgotten, with industry estimates suggesting that each case of footrot costing more than £8/ewe, with further lost productivity costs amounting to up to £3/ewe.
Recent work by a number of industry organisations and partners has helped identify a five-point plan to tackle lameness, with breeders following the strategy reporting high success rates and subsequent improvements in productivity and profitability.
And while eliminating repeatedly lame sheep is central to the plan, for pedigree breeders there is an added incentive as they know the breeding of the problem sheep and can, potentially, remove entire families from a flock when it is evident there is a genetic predisposition to lameness.
Alongside culling, breeders should also be mindful to isolate all incoming animals to ensure they do not spread disease to resident animals and work to reduce the disease challenge in the existing flock through appropriate foot care and possibly vaccination.
Fortunately, the high level of breeding knowledge held by breeders, coupled with sound management and the Society’s work on the genomics of footrot will allow Texel breeders to make significant progress in this area should they wish to. The Society led project is applying the right tool at a breed level to begin to manage the challenge of mastitis and footrot at an industry level.
For more information on the five point plan for lameness see http://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/brp-Lameness080714.pdf
And to learn about the Society’s work on the genomics of footrot and mastitis see http://www.texel.co.uk/node/165