Sheep Lameness 5 Point Plan

FAI Farms


Sheep lameness not only represents a significant animal welfare issue, but a substantial drain on farm profitability, with lameness estimated to cost the UK sheep industry £28 million a year.

For too long sheep lameness has been widely seen as an inevitable part of sheep production. Although exact national lameness figures are not known, farm experience shows lameness is a significant issue on many farms, with some struggling with levels of more than 10%.

Reducing the prevalence of lameness

In 2011 the Farm Animal Welfare Committee recommended government targets for the industry to reduce lameness prevalence to 5% or less by March 2016 and to 2% or less by March 2021.

See Report Here

To help the industry to meet the challenge of reducing lameness, FAI developed the 5 Point Plan, and at the start of 2014 the Sheep Lameness Stakeholder Group agreed to make the 5-point plan for controlling lameness an agreed national strategy.

Reducing antibiotic use

In 2016, the Targets Task Force group was developed with the specific aim of delivering on the Government objective of identifying sector-specific targets for the reduction, refinement and replacement of antibiotics in food-producing animals. Eight key UK livestock sectors (beef, dairy, egg, fish, gamebird, pig, poultry meat, sheep) co-ordinated by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance, and working collaboratively with independent veterinarians and government officials, have taken the lead in developing these targets. The Targets Task Force Report (2017) identified the control of lameness as a ‘hotspot’ area where current behaviour on some farms may not necessarily reflect what would now be regarded as responsible use of good practice. Vaccinations are available against footrot and by monitoring vaccine sales, this could provide an indication that good practice guidelines are being put into effect and give some measurement of uptake of the 5 point plan.

The RUMA Sheep Target Task Force has developed a target to increase uptake of the 5 point plan to control lameness within the sheep sector, measured by an increase in footrot vaccine sales of 5% per year over the next five years (between 2017-2021).

The full report can be found here


Within the UK, an estimated 3 million sheep are lame at any one time. The most common causes of the condition are the infectious bacterial diseases footrot, scald and Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD).

All of these infectious lameness diseases are spread in a similar way. Think of a lame ewe with orange paint (representing bacteria) on her infected foot. As she walks around the farm, she is leaving splodges of paint (bacteria) that other animals can walk through and pick up infection. The more lame ewes, the greater the chance animals will walk through the orange paint.

There will be increased risk of disease spread where stocking rates are high – for example, around water troughs, gateways and handling areas.

Scald and Footrot

Both scald and footrot are caused by Dichelobacter nodosus bacteria..

Scald is a precursor to footrot.

Scald symptoms include reddening and moistness in the interdigital space with a white, pasty scum on top and strong smell. This can progress into footrot, with separation of hoof horn starting in the interdigital space and a grey, foul-smelling pus.

Scald symptoms include reddening and moistness in the interdigital space with a white, pasty scum on top and strong smell. This can progress into footrot, with separation of hoof horn starting in the interdigital space and a grey, foul-smelling pus.


Thought to be caused by treponemes (bacteria).

Infection starts as a red, raw lesion at the coronary band. The infection progresses to underrun the hoof horn capsule downwards towards the toe. The whole horn capsule may fall off.

For more information on the different causes of lameness and methods of control, see the manual Reducing Lameness for Better Returns

Click here to download


The 5 Point Plan gives farmers a clear strategy to control lameness on their farm and was developed by drawing together existing science on sheep lameness and practical experience from farmers who had achieved and sustained low levels of lameness.

Whilst the 5 Point Plan was primarily designed to tackle lameness due to footrot and scald, the principles are likely to be relevant where there is infection with contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD) within a flock, since this is also thought to be an infectious bacterial disease.

The 5 Point Plan has been designed to control infectious disease by helping to reduce the disease challenge, while at the same time building resilience, and establishing immunity in the flock. The plan consists of five action points:

Badly or repeatedly infected animals

Incoming animals

Clinical cases promptly

Spread at handling and gathering


For more information see the Sheep Industry Lameness campaign booklet

Click here to download


1. Identify current lameness levels
Identify the number of lame sheep within your flock now. This will establish a base level against which improvements can be measured. This simple four-point locomotion score developed by the University of Liverpool can be used to measure lameness in flocks. See or this PDF for more information.

0: (SOUND) Bears weight evenly on all four feet and walks with an even rhythm.
1: (MILDLY LAME) Steps are uneven but it is not clear which limb or limbs are affected.
2: (MODERATELY LAME) Steps are uneven and the stride may be shortened; the affected limb or limbs are identifiable.
3: (SEVERELY LAME) Mobility is severely compromised such that the sheep frequently stops walking or lies down due to obvious discomfort. The affected limb or limbs are clearly identifiable and may be held off the ground whilst walking or standing.

Lameness assessments should be repeated at regular intervals. An example scoresheet such as the attached can be used.

2. Diagnose the cause of lameness and identify treatment
Work with your vet to ensure the correct diagnosis of the cause of sheep lameness on your farm and how to treat it effectively. Treatment protocols may vary depending on what issues you have.

3. Implement a relevant control strategy
Depending on the cause of lameness on your farm, develop a control strategy to help manage and reduce the problem identified. For infectious disease, the first thing to do when starting to control lameness is to look at the 5 point plan and identify where the gaps are on your farm. Work out how you are going to implement the points in the short, medium and long term. This on-farm planner may help with this stage.

Most farmers will already be doing some parts of the plan, but the critical success factor comes when you take action in each of the five points. Cutting corners will mean it will be much harder to get lameness under control.

The best time to start the 5 point plan is post-weaning, with the aim of getting on top of any problems in the ewes over the winter. This reduces the chance of affected animals carrying and spreading disease to other ewes and lambs the following spring. See the calendar below to identify timescales for the key actions of the 5 point plan.


Sheep farmers committed to using all parts of the 5 point plan can quickly witness significant drops in lameness.

FAI implemented the plan on their own flock near Oxford (see full report here), and worked with two other forward-thinking farmers, Huw Davies at Llandre Farm in Wales and Graham Dixon at Alwinton Farm in Northumberland.

All three farms reported significant challenges with lameness, primarily due to footrot and scald, and were motivated to work at reducing levels. At FAI, they used a mobile handling system, reduced frequency of handling, vaccinated biannually and culled 4.2% of ewes for lameness in year 1. Llandre Farm focused on prompt treatment and upgrading handling areas, and Alwinton Farm upgraded permanent handling facilities and implemented a strict cull and biannual vaccination programme. Each farm measured lameness monthly via the six-point locomotion score.

All three farms achieved the target of less than 5% lameness within the first year (Figure 1). During the four-year period, the farms that maintained the commitment to all five points of the 5 Point Plan and achieved lameness levels less than 1 per cent in years 2-4. One farm culled less strictly and vaccinated annually instead of biannually, the result of which is reflected in the relatively higher lameness prevalence and within year variation (Figure 1).

This demonstrates that with difficult and intractable problems like sheep lameness, the majority of producers are likely to require implementation of all elements of the 5 Point Plan to achieve sustained lameness reduction. However, the success of these farms implementing the 5 Point Plan show that lameness reduction is achievable within a relatively short time scale, but does require long-term commitment in order to sustain success.

As well as improving the animal’s welfare and having an economic benefit to the farmer, wide implementation of the 5 Point Plan has the potential to substantially reduce the number of doses of antibiotics used against this disease in sheep. This is particularly relevant as antibiotic resistance is an extremely important issue for all livestock species, and opportunities to reduce it should be taken.