Eliminating the Effects of Footrot on Sheep Flocks in the Northeast
Sheep can be an important enterprise on farms in the Northeast as the region is the home of millions of lamb consumers. However, significant barriers exist to the profitability of sheep including key animal health issues. Footrot has been identified as a main reason sheep farmers are forced out of business. Footrot is a highly contagious disease that requires relentless treatment using persistent hoof trimming, foot bathing, customized vaccines and other management practices. These inputs require considerable time and money.
An experienced research team comprised of a veterinarian, a biologist, a geneticist and agriculture educators will lead this project. They will address the disease by educating producers about the causes, treatment, management and preventative techniques including the use of genetic selection to generate footrot-free flocks. A biosecurity plan is an important tool in preventing the disease. Participating farms will implement a customized biosecurity plan.
Producers will be selected to participate in this footrot management program. They will be trained in biosecurity as well as in the techniques for assessment, scoring and record keeping of foot health as a basis for selection of breeding stock. The team will evaluate and score the feet of at least 200 sheep from participating farms and collect blood samples. DNA from these samples will be evaluated for predictive markers of footrot resistance. Resistance in these sheep will be tested by documenting absence of footrot lesions in the presence of footrot organisms. The unique integrated approach of foot management, selection for resistance, and documentation of genetic markers will allow breeders to eliminate footrot. Selection for resistance will reduce costs and make producers less dependent on chemicals and other inputs. Our performance target is that 150 participating producers will reduce losses in their sheep operation caused by footrot by at least 70% and have a defined plan to develop a footrot-free flock.