Increase in the flock prevalence of lameness in ewes is associated with a reduction in farmers using evidence-based management of prompt treatment: a longitudinal observational study of 154 English sheep flocks 2013–2015

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  • Warwick University


Since 2006, farmers in England have received new recommendations on best practice to manage lameness in sheep through a range of knowledge exchange activities. The adoption of each recommendation varied, but in 2013 approximately 50% of farmers reported treating all lame sheep within 3 days of onset of lameness (prompt treatment), 41% did not practice routine foot trimming, 50% culled sheep that had been lame and 14% vaccinated against footrot; all recommended best practices. The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence of lameness in ewes in England from 2013 to 2015 and to identify changes in practice to manage lameness between 2013 and 2015 and the population attributable fraction for these managements. A longitudinal study with a cohort of 154 English sheep farmers was run for three years, farmers completed questionnaires on lameness in their flock for the previous 12 months in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The geometric mean prevalence of lameness in ewes was 4.1% in 2015, significantly higher than 3.3% and 3.2% for the same 128 farmers who provided data in both 2013 and 2014. Between 2013 and 2015 there was a significant reduction in farmers practising prompt treatment (50.6%–28.6%) but an increase in not practising routine foot trimming (40.9%–79.2%), culling sheep that had been lame (49.4%–81.8%), and vaccinating against footrot (14.3%–29.2%). Not practising prompt treatment, ≥5% of sheep feet bleeding during routine foot trimming, vaccinating ewes for <6 years or not vaccinating at all, and other flocks mixing with the flock, were associated with a significantly higher flock prevalence of lameness. Culling sheep that had been lame was not associated with prevalence of lameness. The population attributable fractions (PAFs) for not vaccinating for>5 years, not treating lame sheep promptly, ≥5% of sheep feet bleeding during routine foot trimming, and mixing of flocks were 34.5%, 25.3%, 2.9% and 2.4%. In 2013, when 50% of farmers used prompt treatment, the PAF for not using prompt treatment was only 13.3%. We conclude that the change in practice by these farmers towards flock-level managements and a reduction in individual prompt treatment of lame sheep negatively impacted the prevalence of lameness in sheep. This change occurred despite the evidence that prompt treatment of lame sheep is highly effective at reducing the prevalence of lameness in sheep flocks and is an example of cognitive dissonance.


Original languageEnglish
Article number104801
Number of pages8
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Early online date18 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Lameness, Prevalence, population attributable fraction, Risk factors, Sheep, Treatment