Be thorough - Beat Footrot

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Stock Journal Technical Column, April 2023 

Author: Chris van Dissel, Manager Field Operations (Animal Health), Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) 

Summer is the time for producers to undertake their footrot eradication programs in South Australia. Dry hot conditions help reduce the spread of the disease as well as dry out those sheep affected with less severe lesions. There are many flocks in South Australia that are currently undertaking footrot eradication programs and the key to success is careful planning and attention to detail.

If you’ve had an ongoing issue with footrot in your flock and you’ve not been successful with your eradication efforts or have never attempted, the following tips will assist in planning a successful program-

  • Fence lines- Boundary and internal fences must be sheep proof. Straying sheep from neighbouring properties, could possibly introduce or re-introduce the footrot bacterium. It’s also important to have sheep proof internal fences so you can manage mobs by risk and keep those more likely to breakdown after treatment separate from those that were largely free of infection. Good internal fencing is required to ensure isolation until after a spread period when introducing new sheep.  
  • Cattle- Cattle can carry the bacteria that causes footrot, especially when they are co-grazed with infected sheep. If you have cattle on your property, separate them from sheep mobs and allow for a two- week break between grazing sheep behind cattle.
  • Get an accurate flock diagnosis- Have your local Animal Health Officer or a Vet experienced in footrot diagnosis, inspect multiple mobs on your property during Spring and ensure samples are collected from any suspicious mobs for laboratory testing. This will help you work out what the level and severity of infection per mob is and aid in planning treatment.
  • Inspect introduced sheep- Inspect the hooves of all purchased rams and a proportion of any consignments of sheep that you purchase. If you are purchasing in a non-spread period for footrot, isolate new purchases until you can be sure they are free of disease. Use trained contractors or vets to assist with this process if you are not sure what to look for.
  • Equipment and yards- Determine what type of footbath will be best for your property, the bigger the better for large flocks and position footbaths near to a shearing shed or concrete pad to allow for a drying area after bathing.
  • Control in Spring- Strategic mob foot-bathing in Zinc Sulphate during the spring spread period will help limit the number of infected sheep per mob and will help limit the progression of severe lesions and reduce lameness. For more virulent infections, consult your Vet as to whether it may be beneficial to incorporate a footrot vaccine into your planned eradication.
  • Engage a PIRSA approved contractor- Becoming skilled at footrot identification and hoof paring takes thousands of sheep. Rather than trying to do the job on your own, engage an approved contractor to do the inspection and hoof paring and keep you own staff free for moving sheep and foot bathing. Poor paring will cause more damage than good.
  • Strays- If you do get strays in before or during a program, don’t just hunt them back through the fence, yard them, check them and if they have suspicious lesions, notify PIRSA to help you manage the risk.
  • Formulate and follow a plan- Sit down with your Vet or Animal Health Officer and write down an eradication plan. This will enable you to time other flock management activities in conjunction with your eradication program, plan paddocks, stock movements and inspections. Share your plan with your chosen contractor and once formulated stick to it! Footrot isn’t eradicated until the very last infected sheep is successfully treated or removed from the flock.

Don’t be complacent, footrot eradication requires dedication. It’s easy to cure footrot in one sheep, but keeping on track and paying attention to every sheep in a flock can be challenging. Enlist the help of people who are experienced with eradication, and you will beat footrot. Advice on managing footrot is available on the PIRSA website at