Flock Biosecurity — Footrot Prevention

Written December 2010, by Dr. Charles F. Parker PhD, Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University, for the SARE funded research project “Eliminating the Effects of Footrot on Sheep Flocks in the Northeast”

Contagious footrot is an insidious disease that affects mobility and can severely impair the performance and productive efficiency of sheep.  Most experienced sheep raisers consider footrot a “worst flock health” condition.  Footrot is a disease that can put sheep producers out of business.

Footrot prevention should be a common biosecurity goal of all sheep producers. The most likely route of footrot infection comes through the introduction of new animals into the flock. Therefore, all new purchases should be suspected of being infected with the causative footrot bacteria D. nodosus; quarantined for a minimum of 3 weeks and managed accordingly.

First, flock owners should observe all new animals for lameness, followed by careful inspection of each foot. One should be especially concerned with the presence of interdigital inflammation. Hooves should be closely trimmed and observed for irregular growth that can be associated with chronic cases  of infection.  Each foot should be sprayed at the time of trimming with a 20 percent solution of Zinc Sulfate.

At the end of the isolation period, feet of all animals in the group should be re-trimmed and thoroughly examined for signs of infection. If there is any evidence of footrot infection, all animals in the group should be foot bathed with a 10 percent Zinc Sulfate solution (8.5 lbs. of Zinc Sulfate/10 gal. water ) with an added surfactant. This should be followed by a prescribed footrot treatment schedule.

Othersources of footrot infection include:

  • Contaminated bedding at sales, fairs and during transport. One must assume all used bedding is contaminated with footrot-causing bacteria. Clean and replace all used bedding in pens when applicable.  Clean, rinse and disinfect floors of trailers and trucks that have been used to transport sheep and goats. Use clean bedding.
  • Goats. Sheep and goats are affected by many of the same diseases including contagious footrot.
  • Pasture and barn lots. Footrot causing bacteria can survive up to two weeks on soil or bedding after infected animals leave the area.
  • Foot wear contamination via visitors of footrot infected flocks.
  • Service personnel; sheep shearers and/or other flock service personnel.

Footrot is a serious threat for any sustainable sheep enterprise. Timely managed biosecurity practices are paramount to avoid this disease.