XLVets event gives key insights on managing sheep lameness

XLVets, in association with MSD Animal Health, hosted an intriguing evening on Lameness in Sheep with an experienced panel and enthusiastic delegates. Over 20 attendees joined the discussion that allowed for an ‘ask anything’ approach on current thoughts and practices in preventing and treating lameness. A strong theme of engaging with clients and navigating the emotive aspect of lameness developed throughout the meeting with some useful and practical take-home tips emerging.

The discussion highlighted that lameness in a flock can be an emotive issue for many farmers, not least due to pressure from public opinion if people observe lame sheep whilst out walking. With many farmers feeling that lameness in the flock to be a badge of failure, and others resigned to the fact their flock will host lame animals, delegates discussed how it has never been more important for vets to be able to engage and help their clients with this economically damaging and stress-inducing issue. Changing mindset and building confidence were identified as crucial in motivating farmers to tackle lameness within their flock.

Delegates also discussed the national five-point plan for reducing lameness in sheep and highlighted several barriers to its implementation. The relationship between vet and farmer is paramount, and farmers want to know that their vet genuinely cares about their farm and flock. With farmers more likely to take advice from their peers than vets, there is work to be done in the veterinary community to strengthen relationships with clients. It was obvious to see the passion held by attendees, and panelist Jenny Schmidt from Torch Farm Vets had some great tips on how to develop this relationship.

Ensuring that advice given to farmers is bespoke and relevant to their farm is shown to have a particular impact. Caroline Best, who is studying the cause and control of lameness in sheep in her PhD, explained: “lameness is so specific to a flock, and what may be one farmer’s motivation may be another farmer’s barrier. Tailoring the five-point plan to individuals and working in a partnership helps to decrease the resignation felt by farmers, and ultimately shows that success can be achieved working within their own resources.”

Working in partnership can be beneficial to both vets and farmers and this was a key theme of the meeting. Jenny Schmidt noted that farmers are generally better at spotting lameness in sheep, but vets are the experienced hand in diagnosing the issue. Misdiagnosis and the subsequent inappropriate choice of treatment by farmers have led to a mistrust in some products due to their perceived lack of efficacy. Here is a chance for vets to educate and encourage their clients that, when used appropriately, methods such as vaccination and footbaths can have real benefits. The same discussion can be applied to culling, and panelist Joe Henry from Black Sheep Farm Health had useful advice on recording lameness and highlighting how sheep with repeated bouts of lameness are less productive.

Getting onto farms may still be difficult for vets, but developments in technology can be utilised and photographs or videos can be easily sent from farmer to vet. Monika Ptaszynska from MSD commented: “Involving the client in the process of investigating the lameness increases the chance of the farmer being proactive about treatment and future prevention. Don’t underestimate both their emotional and financial attachment to their flock.” Jenny also advocated using technology to aid collaboration between colleagues: “There are some great WhatsApp groups for sheep vets, where we can share photos and ask questions within our community. No question is a silly question, and we should never be afraid to tell our clients that we don’t know, but will find out. They appreciate the honesty and desire to help.”

The discussion ended with an interesting question time session, where delegates shared their own experiences and ideas. A host of ways that vets can engage their clients, ranging from flock health clubs to dedicated lame sheep promotions were shared. Resources for vets too were also discussed including MSD’s short ‘Masterclass Videos’ videos. For more information on webinars run by XLVets contact Alice Renner at alice.renner@xlvets.co.uk.

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