Footrot

Footrot is a highly contagious disease caused by bacteria that infect the feet of sheep.

The disease causes severe pain and lameness in affected sheep and has an enormous impact on flock productivity and profitability by reducing wool production, causing poor growth rates, lowering ewe fertility and restricting the sale options of infected sheep.

The cost, labour and other resources involved in controlling footrot can cause financial, physical and mental stress.

Many of these costs are avoidable. Footrot can be eradicated and controlled in a cost-effective manner and a Footrot Manual, along with Footrot FAQs, are available to support producers and contractors.

The serious nature of footrot has resulted in many State governments enacting legislation to control footrot but many have no legislative control.

Prompt, expert advice about footrot control is essential to minimise the cost of footrot. Successfully dealing with footrot requires commitment, understanding and open dialogue between farmers, contractors and their advisers.

Footrot contractors are seen by many to be an essential part of footrot eradication. It has been demonstrated that producers who use contractors spend significantly less time under quarantine then those who attempt eradication on their own.

Foot rot is a notifiable disease in all states except Queensland and Tasmania.  If you suspect you have footrot in NSW, Victoria, South Australia or WA you must by law notify your state Department of Agriculture. The definition of footrot varies from state to state.

Biosecurity for footrot

LBN's Dr Pat Kluver inspecting sheep for footrot.

Footrot prevention is an essential part of the management on any sheep property. Controlling footrot is a major exercise – once the disease has been eradicated from a farm, it is important to take precautions to stop footrot being reintroduced.

The risk of reintroducing footrot can be minimised if you:

  • Maintain good fences. Good internal and boundary fences are the best defence against the introduction of footrot. They should be maintained in stock proof condition. That means not just your sheep but for the neighbours’ cows and goats as well.
  • Sheep are a source of infection. All sheep or goats coming onto the property must be regarded as suspect and as a source of infection.
  • RAMS are a common source of infection. Being a “stud” does not mean they are free of footrot.
  • Beware of strays, including sheep that have strayed off your property – quarantine them – or cull them.
  • Monitor purchased sheep. All sheep coming onto the property must be kept isolated as a mob until they have been through a spread period, usually the following spring. Check all lame sheep. Ideally, all sheep are individually inspected on arrival and if a problem is detected it can be immediately acted upon.
  • Buy sheep with a Sheep Health Statement.
  • Use footbathing in an appropriate way. Footbathing all introduced sheep will act as a superficial disinfectant – it will not cure chronic lesions.
  • Preferably inspect all new sheep on arrival and hold in strict isolation until they have been through a spring spread period.
  • Consider the role of goats on the property. Footrot does not behave the same way in goats as it does in sheep. The bacteria which cause mild forms of footrot in sheep cause severe damage to goats’ feet. The strains of footrot are hard to distinguish by examining numbers of goats. Goat movements must be considered in a footrot eradication plan.