Other Problems

Lameness is also a major health and welfare problem in sheep and goat herds. As with cows, it creates pain for the animal and economic losses for the farmer due to decreased herd per­formance. Lame sheep and goats have a lower body condition, a lower wool value (sheep), a decrease in milk let down. reduced growth rates in the young and a lower fertility rate.

Effective management of hoof health in these animals is difficult but should be based on good nutrition, good management. preventive measures, accurate diagnosis. hoof trimming and prompt treatment where necessary. It should be noted that sheep are very susceptible to conta­gious diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease (as are cows), which can also present itself as lameness initially.

As with cows, high stocking should be avoided and a healthy diet (including zinc supplements to promote healthy horn growth) should be fed_ Low roughage diets or sudden access to large amounts of high energy feed can create hoof problems and laminitis in these animals too, which in turn leads to severe lamirtitis problems and severe lameness.

A good herd health plan for sheep and goats should contain:

  • Vaccination programme
  • Control of internal and external parasites
  • Pasture management
  • Foot bathing

A successful foot bathing regime should include walking the animals through a pre-wash bath if the feet are extremely dirty. followed by a fresh, clean footbath solution, and letting them stand or rest in dry. clean areas (housed or on pasture) after bathing.

Stand-in zinc based footbaths are normally used rather than walk-through baths to allow the solution to start working. Commercial products can also be used as long as they do not contain copper and do not harden the hooves.

Caution: copper-based footbath solutions should not be used for sheep as it is very toxic for these animals. Copper-based products can be used for goats however. Lameness problems in sheep and goats can be divided into non-infectious and infectious.


Shelly hoof

This common condition appears as a pocket as the outer wall of the claw loosens. A cavity forms between the horn and hoof, which fills with soil and manure. The lameness often affects one loot, usually at the front. Merinos are more susceptible to this disease than European and British breeds.

Foot abscess

Abscesses develop from bacterial infection of a foot where trauma has previously occurred and was not treated promptly. Animals suffer from severe pain and are very lame. Swelling usually occurs above the coronary band with pus often bursting out. After this, it appears that the animal has recovered. Foot abscesses most commonly affect the front feet of sheep and goats.


Arthritis can affect animals of all ages, but is usually more common in young animals than older ones. Infection arises from lambing in unhygienic conditions, usually entering through the umbilical cord. The animal becomes lame and “carries” the infected leg, in many cases the infected leg is swollen at the knee joint. In most cases, arthritis can only be treated with large doses of antibiotics. Prevention is preferable and can be achieved by keeping lambing Sheds and pasture areas clean.


Foot rot

Foot rot is a highly contagious disease in sheep. commonly present in soil and manure. Wet, muddy and dirty conditions cause the interdigital space to soften and become more susceptible to contamination. Hill ewes are less susceptible than lowland breeds. After invading the interdigital space. the bacteria penetrates deep into the tissue and horn, leading to separation or the horn near the heel. Symptoms include swelling. pain, severe lameness and a foul smell, and in mild cases, reddening of the skin between the claws. Treatment should involve topical treatment with an antibiotic, foot bathing and separating infected animals from the herd. Vaccination against foot rot should form a vital part of the health control programme.

Scald (interdigital dermatitis)

Scald is easily spread through the herd and affects animals of all ages. but particularly young animals. Animals kept on long, wet grass are especially susceptible. The skin between the claws becomes inflamed, moist and swollen, but there is no separation between the horn and the skin. The best method to prevent scald is foot bathing.

Contagious ovine digital dermatitis

This condition is highly contagious and spreads quickly through the herd, often affecting over 40 percent of the animals. First symptoms occur at the coronary band rather than the interdigi­tal space. The cause of this disease is not yet understood, however many bacteria, including Treponeina spirochaetes (strains similar to those found in cows) have been identified. There is little that can be done to prevent this disease other than keeping flocks in dry pastures or housing.