An online lameness recording system for sheep farmers

Fund

Norman Hayward Fund

Grant

£57,882

Research Period

2016

Area of study

Sheep

Description

Principal investigators: Professor Laura Green and Jessica Gaudy

Summary:

Farmers, veterinarians and the public consider lameness THE sheep disease with the most impact on welfare (Goddard et al., 2006). Lame sheep are in pain, and lameness for as little as one week reduces body condition, ewe productivity and lamb growth (Wassink et al., 2010) and costs the UK sheep industry ~£24 million p.a. (Nieuwolf et al., 2005).
FAWC (2011) proposed that by 2021 lameness should be reduced from the current flock prevalence of 10% to 2%.  This goal is achievable using existing evidence if farmers adopt this; an important part of improving lameness is accurate record keeping that informs and helps farmers to understand how to control lameness. The development of such a recording programme and feedback to farmers is not commercially attractive but will be of great benefit to the welfare of the 14 million adult sheep and over 14 million lambs born each year in the UK.

How this will be done:

From our currently funded AWF study ‘Development of a validated lameness control plan for sheep flocks’ we have identified that farmers who maintain accurate treatment records are far better at controlling lameness because they can plan and make strategic management decisions. We identified that many sheep farmers have and use smartphones. Consequently, alongside our original proposal we have designed a prototype smartphone application (app) that 37% of our farmers are finding very useful.
We propose to develop this app further to collect data, analyse it and to present the data as farmer friendly reports. With information on their individual flock performance at regular intervals, farmers will be able to take appropriate action, for example, planned culling of repeatedly lame sheep and identifying an excessive number of cases of granulomas indicating over-trimming of feet. With summary information on other flocks farmers will be able to benchmark themselves against national trends. Alongside this will be key electronic messages and information sheets as printable pdfs on how to manage lameness targeted to farmers based on their particular issues.
We will develop and test the app and online portal, then work with AHDB Beef & Lamb to roll this out to 16000 English sheep farmers.