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Beyond the Bale : March 2016
34 ON FARM FOOTROT ERADICATION REQUIRES DEDICATION Woolgrowers Shelley Saunders and Chris Cocker eradicated footrot from their property at Nile in Tasmania after a two-year program that involved hard work and attention to detail. Woolgrower Shelley Saunders and husband Chris have worked hard to build an ultrafine Merino flock, and the effort to eradicate footrot has been worth it. PHOTO: Catriona Nicholls Shelley Saunders and Chris Cocker from Nile in Tasmania – who run 2,800 ultrafine and superfine Merino ewes for wool and lamb production – know the effort, cost and attention to detail that is required to eradicate footrot. After a two-year control and eradication program, which included regular flock inspections, foot paring, foot bathing and the use of antibiotics in severely affected sheep, the couple is declaring their flock footrot free. “In January 2012 a bushfire destroyed half of our boundary fence and burnt several hectares of farm land around us,” Shelley said. “Over the following couple of months we had stray sheep wandering on and off the property until the boundary fence was replaced around the end of March. During early April, we brought the sheep into the yards for crutching and noticed a few lame ewes. We turned them over to discover advanced footrot. “We’ve been here for 20 years and only ever experienced footrot once, about 10 years ago, with no sign of it since. “We were at a loss as to where the infection came from but thought the fire-damaged fence, giving stray stock access to our property, was the most likely source.” IMMEDIATE ACTION Shelley and Chris needed a diagnosis as soon as possible to implement an appropriate management strategy. Chris contacted Department of Primary Industries Water and Environment (DPIPWE) Senior Veterinary Officer, Dr Bruce Jackson, who took some foot scrapings and confirmed virulent footrot, but not a specific strain. Shelley and Chris immediately embarked on an inspection and control program, calling in contractors to turn over every sheep, inspect and pare every foot, and foot bath every animal in zinc sulphate with sodium lauryl sulphate. 20-30 animals with severe footrot lesions were immediately culled. “At that stage we already had a foot bath, but only a manual sheep handler, so we were not equipped to manhandle every sheep ourselves,” Shelley said. “We thought if we got onto it quickly we would be right, but in hindsight we didn’t handle this early stage as well as we could have – we should have foot bathed more frequently and sought advice from our consulting veterinarian earlier. “During May and June 2012 we received 245mm of rain and by the time the contractors returned in June the affected sheep numbers had increased significantly to about 18 per cent of the flock. “By this stage affected (dirty) sheep were identified in our clean mobs and half the dirty sheep presented as clean – but we had been so particular with foot bathing, not crossing clean animals over contaminated ground that I knew something wasn’t right.” Shelley called upon the services of local consulting veterinarian Dr Paul Nilon for his advice. “Paul said there was no point trying to eradicate now (during winter), we had too many differential diagnoses due to the wet conditions – it was a waste of time,” Shelley said. “So we chose to foot bath during winter to contain the disease and try again to eradicate after spring.” LAMBING MANAGEMENT One additional management change Shelley and Chris implemented in the meantime was to shorten their lambing period from five weeks to three. “We wanted to restart foot bathing as soon as possible after lambing during spring, so cut our usual five-week lambing period back by two weeks, which ended up being really effective. After the first foot bathing (including 850 lambs) we only had two infected lambs. “We brought the mobs back into the foot bath every three weeks. It took a while to foot bath with 50–60 in at a time, depending on the age of animals and their behaviour.” SUMMER ERADICATION Shelley and Chris decided against bringing the contractors back during the summer of 2013-14 to control costs. “We decided to set ourselves up to do our inspections,” Shelley said. “We put down a 9m x 9m concrete slab, bought a Peakhandler and two sets of pneumatic foot shears. “The handler was amazing – Chris set it up so the animals fit well, were relaxed and would lie in the cradle properly. “In the end I got quite good at it, with just me and a dog. The first summer we had no roof and the sun was pretty harsh, but by the following summer we had erected a roof over the handling area, which made a huge difference. “We aimed to eradicate in the one year – we started to foot pare not long after Christmas 2013 and raddled anything with score 1 or higher, though there weren’t many because of our vigilant winter-spring footbathing program.” Shelley pared all four feet on every animal and continued to isolate clean sheep from dirty sheep, treating affected sheep with antibiotics and culling anything that didn’t respond.
In the Shops - March 2016