Stock footing the bill for bumper season

Great season, but foot abscess on the rise

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Stock are footing the bill as foot abscess cases increase.

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Foot abscess is more common in good seasons when stock are heavy, or in good condition, and are grazing in long, wet grass. Photo - Kristy Stone LLS Vet, Gundagai.

Foot abscess is more common in good seasons when stock are heavy, or in good condition, and are grazing in long, wet grass. Photo - Kristy Stone LLS Vet, Gundagai.

With a bumper of a season across a vast area of Australia's south east, adverse conditions such as foot abscess in sheep is starting to ramp up.

And with more rain forecast in August, stock aren't expected to get any respite from the wet, boggy conditions any time soon.

South East Local Land Services senior agriculture livestock advisor, Matthew Lieschke, said they are starting to not only see the increase of adult sheep with foot abscess, but younger sheep have also fallen victim to the condition.

"Normally this condition affects adult sheep, especially heavy, twin bearing ewes, but this year there's even been reports of foot abscess in weaner lambs," Mr Lieschke said.

"This just highlights how favourable the conditions are at present for foot abscess developing."

Foot abscess is more common in good seasons when stock are heavy, or in good condition, and are grazing in long, wet grass.

The high proportion of clover and capeweed in pastures this year is also keeping feet wet, Mr Lieschke said.

Although management options become limited as lambing approaches, Mr Lieschke advised there are a couple of things producers can do to help reduce the problem.

"Simple things like minimising the movement of sheep through muddy gateways and yards and moving stock to a paddock where feet can dry will help," Mr Lieschke said.

"And if sheep are affected, provide prompt treatment with foot paring and contact your local vet for antibiotics to treat affected feet.

"If ewes are already limping due to scald, it would help to put the through a zinc sulfate bath on the way to a paddock where their feet could dry as it will assist in drying up the scald and consequently less resultant abscess."

He said this needs to be done in a way where sheep are not going through muddy yards in order to be footbathed, or go straight back into muddy paddocks.

"If foot abscess is looking to be a big problem in your lambing ewes, select lambing paddocks based on foot abscess risk above all other factors, including shelter," Mr Lieschke said.

"The reason being is that with foot abscess there is a high risk you will lose both the ewe and lamb.

"Losing both the ewe and lamb will have a major impact on profitability, especially with the current value of stock."

Affected animals can lose condition and ewes late in pregnancy can be susceptible to developing pregnancy toxaemia.

Mr Lieschke advised using well-drained paddocks that don't have wet, boggy areas to run stock as well as selecting paddocks with shorter feed.

"This might seem counter-intuitive and against what you would normally do, but selecting paddocks with less feed means you will have a better chance of keeping feet a bit drier," he said.

"For example, you would be better to lamb down on say 1200kg of DM/ha (approximately 4cm of green) than a paddock containing 1600kgDM/ha or more (6cm plus).

"The shorter feed will also be of higher digestibility which equals better animal performance."

He said in the instance where producers have scanned into singles and twins and are struggling to find suitable paddocks, put the twinners on shorter feed as they are of greater risk of developing abscess.

"Look for paddocks that have roads, laneways or rocky outcrops in them - these can be valuable places for stock to camp and dry their feet," Mr Lieschke said.

In a study funded by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), 115 producers throughout the NSW Tablelands were surveyed in 2011 to examine the risk factors associated with foot abscess.

The study was on the back of 2010 - a particularly bad year for abscess.

The survey showed abscess occurred in 79 of the 115 properties, that's almost 70pc of the of properties affected.

The number of stock affected by foot abscess ranged from 0.03pc up to 28pc with 36 producers reporting mortalities due to foot abscess.

The highest mortality rate reported was 16.7pc (30 out of 180 sheep).

Not to be confused with footrot

Mr Lieschke warned sheep can become lame for a range of reasons, so the important thing to do is identify exactly what the issue is.

"Foot abscess is often confused with footrot, and vice versa, and there have been reports of both occurring," he said.

"Virulent footrot is a notifiable disease. If you see lameness you have a legal obligation to inspect the sheep and to call your district veterinarian if you see underrunning of the hoof wall."

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