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Problems with Feet/Lameness

Probably the most common problem associated with sheep. Usually the result of improper care, i.e. not trimming hooves often enough or the result of very wet/boggy pasture. There can be a bit of genetics involved too, some breeds have harder, better shaped feet, but mostly it comes down to poor management, though with the incredibly wet weather we have had in recent years there is often little you can do about boggy fields..

If you notice one of your sheep limping, and/or grazing on its knees you need to catch the sheep asap and have a good look at his/her feet and try to determine what the problem is.

Scald: This is a bacterial infection and inflammation between the toes of the hoof, usually sheep with scald will be fine one day and suddenly very lame the next, its very painful for the sheep, but quite easy to treat. If left untreated if can lead to foot rot. If you look at the foot of a sheep with scald it will usually be red and moist between the toes, sometimes with a whitish/yellowy substance, it will probably smell not great too. To treat scald you can buy an antibacterial spray can from an agricultural supplier/farm shop, generously spray the affected hoof(s) and ideally keep the sheep inside on dry bedding or a hard standing area. The bacteria that cause scald thrive in damn wet conditions with little oxygen, scald usually occurs in sheep on very wet/muddy land or kept inside in poor unsanitary conditions. You may need to repeat the spray treatment several times in order to completely clear up the scald, and if possible move the sheep onto drier grazing.

Foot Rot: I have to be honest, we luckily haven’t had any dealings with foot rot during our time keeping sheep. And so I don’t know too much about it. It is however, a highly contagious, painful nasty condition and very hard to eradicate once it takes hold in your flock. Characterised by bleeding and deformity of the hoof/toes and a really foul smell, it is very painful for the sheep. You can google it and find out much more info that what I can give you here. I would add though, just because you have a lame sheep, whose foot smells bad, doesn’t mean your sheep has foot rot, if in doubt you should seek the assistance of your vet for a proper diagnosis.

White Line Disease: Whether this is an actual disease or not I’m not sure but it is basically a condition where the white line of the hoof (located between the hard outer wall and the softer toe) degenerates, leaving gaps/holes in this part of the hoof. It is not painful to the sheep on its own however these gaps/pockets usually get filled with mud and debris and as a result bacterial infection will occur. Which is then painful. The best way to treat this condition is to trim away the hard outer wall surrounding the hole, thus exposing the softer hoof and removing the gap where debris can collect. I have spoken with my local vet about this condition, as it is very prevalent in the sheep local to us. He suggested it is a result, or possibly a combination or warm climate/lush grass/very wet weather/boggy fields/vitamin/mineral imbalance and possibly genetic influence.

Abscess: These can be caused by various things, maybe a small cut on the foot, thorn or debris collected in pockets caused by White Line disease. If your sheep has an abscess in its foot the foot will usually be very hot to touch and may have a large swelling, or the abscess could be hidden from view. Sometimes there will be a foul discharge and an awful bad smell. They are very painful and the sheep will be very lame and possibly even appear unwell. Abscesses need to be treated with a course of antibiotics and repeatedly spraying the area with an antibacterial spray. You should bring the sheep inside to a dry comfortable enclosure. If you are unsure what to do consult your vet.

Foreign Object: A relatively common problem. We have had lame sheep who we found to have a small stone wedged between their two toes, or a thorn stuck in their foot. If you sheep is lame and you don’t suspect any of the above then have a good look at the foot for any foreign objects stuck there. If not removed they can lead to infection and abscesses.

Infected Gland: Many people don’t know this but sheep have a gland on their food, located centrally above the two cloven toes. It is visible as a small hole in the skin. These glands can become infected and will ooze a foul puss substance, usually the foot will be hot and it will smell. You need to clean the infected gland, squeeze our all the foul discharge and spray generously with an antibacterial spray. It may also be necessary for the sheep to be put on a course of antibiotics.

Injury: Lastly we have injury, which can’t be ruled out. Usually it is more common for a lamb or young sheep to injure their foot or leg, as they will be doing a lot more racing around. They can break their legs and if you think your sheep has a serious injury such as broken leg contact your vet immediately.

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