Lameness in English lowland sheep flocks : farmers' perspectives and behaviour
King, Elisabeth M.
mesheuropmc: food and beverages | respiratory tract diseases | immune system diseases
Lameness in sheep is an important welfare concern causing financial loss through lost performance. This thesis increases epidemiological understanding of sheep lameness from the farmers’ perspective, using interdisciplinary approaches. Previous work indicated that routine foot trimming (RFT), used by >75% of\ud farmers to control lameness, correlated with higher lameness prevalences. A within farm, clinical trial using stratified random sampling examined the effect of RFT versus no RFT on 173 ewes. RFT was not beneficial and over-trimming was detrimental.\ud Thirty-five farms were visited to assess accuracy of farmers’ estimated lameness prevalence in their sheep flocks compared with a researcher’s observations. Farmers’ estimates were consistently, closely and significantly correlated with the researcher’s estimates.\ud Successful knowledge transfer and research impact requires understanding lameness management from farmers’ perspectives. Qualitative interviews with 17 farmers examining attitudes towards lameness management were used to inform design of a questionnaire, sent to 1000 randomly selected farmers, to quantify\ud farmers’ attitudes towards lameness. Farmers considered interdigital-dermatitis and footrot distinct. Barriers to prompt treatment (e.g. lack of time/labour) accounted for most observed variance, with non-financial motivators rated higher than financial motivators. Ineffective flock record keeping, environmental\ud subsidies and market price fluctuation may reduce financial motivation. Consistent with the RFT trial, there was no difference (p>0.5) in lameness prevalence by RFT frequency/absence. Despite RFT trial evidence given, farmers were reluctant to stop RFT; with reluctance less from those with higher lameness prevalences, large, commercial flocks, infrequently using parenteral antibacterial\ud treatments or not treating mildly lame sheep. This thesis provides evidence that farmers’ lameness estimates are sufficiently\ud accurate and can be used in research. Routine foot trimming appears to be of no benefit to reduce lameness but farmers require further evidence to be convinced of this. Further farmer focused research into RFT, barrier cause and effect, and whole flock managements is required.
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