Breeding animals for resilient feet: On-farm decision-making and the role of culling in sheep lameness management and breeding strategies

Fund

Norman Hayward Fund

Grant

£14,908

Research Period

2024

Area of study

Breeding for Better Welfare

Description

Investigator(s): Beth Clark, Niamh Mahon 
Project length: 12 months (due to start March 2024)
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Lameness is a significant welfare issue for UK sheep and can cause large economic losses; 6 to 9 million sheep become lame over a year, which is between 27% and 40% of the total number of sheep and lamb in the UK.
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Persistent lameness can lead to reduced weight gain, metabolic diseases in pregnant ewes, reduced birthweight of lambs, mis-mothering and poor colostrum production by ewes (Harwood et al., 1997; Henderson, 1990).
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Strategies for reducing the incidence of lameness include the 5-point plan (5PP) (AHDB, 2022). Whilst the 5PP is effective, it is not always implemented, or implemented consistently by farmers (Witt and Green, 2018; Best et al., 2020). Within the 5PP culling is promoted as a method of breeding resilience to lameness in flocks. However, culling seemingly productive animals is acknowledged to be difficult for farmers. Understanding the barriers and facilitators to breeding strategies, including culling, could provide beneficial new insights for lameness management.
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This research will focus on culling, explore why farmers are finding it difficult, and how farm advisers might better engage with farmers to address these difficulties. The approach and findings will be structured around the Behaviour Change Wheel framework (Michie et al., 2011), which provides a structured means of considering a range of different factors known to influence human behaviour.
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Findings will provide in-depth insights into the challenges associated with breeding for lameness and barriers and facilitators to implementing changes on-farm.