The introduction of a vaccination programme has virtually
eliminated footrot, cutting down on family labour time as
well as improving sheep health and welfare, say Cumbrian sheep
producers the Hewitsons.
|Left to right, Martin,
Benson and Philip Hewitson with their Swaledale ewes on Low Moor.
Benson and Alison Hewitson’s sons Martin and
Philip now both work in the farming business at Shatton Lodge,
Lorton, near Cockermouth, where the family has farmed since
The farming enterprise is centred on a suckler beef herd
and hill sheep, as well as Martin and Philip continuing the
family contract sheep shearing business set up three decades
ago. Their sister Diana maintains her interest in livestock
as a vet in Durham.
In 2000, in order to expand, the Hewitsons bought a block
of 110 acres of land at Low Moor near Bothel, eight miles
away from Shatton Lodge. Farmed together with neighbouring
unit High Stanger, the operation now runs a flock of Swaledale
ewes for North of England Mule production.
The unimproved land, which runs at 552 ft above sea level,
is predominantly rushes and wet soft grazing. As a result,
the Hewitsons quickly found that the Swaledale ewes and their
Mule lambs were prone to serious footrot problems.
Footrot is one of the most important health and welfare issues
facing UK sheep producers, with the disease causing visible
pain, reducing performance and costing the industry millions
of pounds in labour, treatments and premature culling.
“We found that every time we went to look at the sheep
there would be between 20 and 30 with foot trouble,” says
“Work that we had planned to take an hour and a half
would then take us the majority of the day, because we were
trimming and spraying the sheep’s feet. It was becoming
ridiculous and we couldn’t control it.
“We also used footbathing and antibiotic injections
to try and clear up the footrot. We had heard about the Footvax
footrot vaccine too and first tried vaccinating the ewes in
the autumn of 2001.
“We couldn’t believe how well it cleared up the
problem. Now we only get one or two odd cases – but
there are no really bad ones.”
According to the vaccine manufacturers Schering-Plough Animal
Health, footrot must be controlled on a whole flock basis
with annual vaccination a central part of the programme for
all sheep that face a footrot challenge. Additional booster
doses should be used to treat infected animals.
“Vaccination with Footvax provides effective treatment
for infected sheep, as well as long-term protection,” says
Schering-Plough veterinary adviser Paul Williams. “A
single injection of the vaccine can be used to treat footrot
because antibodies are produced against D.nodosus.
Sheep do not produce a natural antibody response to D.nodosus, which
means they will never develop a natural immunity to footrot
so will remain susceptible year after year. This is why vaccination
is so important.
“An initial 1ml injection will stimulate adequate antibody
response to treat existing infections and prevent new ones
for up to five months. But it is advisable to vaccinate again
four to six weeks later for improved cure rates and longer
on-going protection. Thereafter, an annual booster should
be sufficient to keep footrot at a manageable level.”
Benson Hewitson learned many years ago that prevention is
better than cure when it comes to disease management. His
flock was severely hit with abortion and he was one of the
early users of a vaccine to prevent the problem – a
practice the family continues to this day.
Traditionally, draft Swaledale ewes are bought-in to breed
Mule lambs. However, during 2001 and the foot and mouth epidemic,
in order to become more self-sufficient the Hewitsons bred
their own flock replacements and three quarters of the 180
Swaledales on Low Moor are currently home-bred.
The ewes are set-stocked on the land and they only leave
it for two months in the year – at tupping time and
for lambing in April when they return to Shatton Lodge.
Despite not vaccinating the Mule lambs they remain free of
the footrot during the time spent with their mothers on Low
Moor until weaning in August or September when they are brought
in as replacements for the 550 Mule ewe flock at Shatton Lodge.
At the 290 acre Shatton Lodge a further 200 older Swaledale
ewes are also bred to the Bluefaced Leicester for Mule replacements
and the Hewitsons are considering using the vaccine on these
sheep, although the problems are far less severe than at Low
“The welfare of the sheep is very important and because
they are free from lameness they are in a much better body
condition. As a result they thrive better, even on this poorer
land,” said Martin Hewitson.
“In the past, when their body condition dropped through
lameness it could take up to six weeks for them to re-gain
that condition after we had cured the footrot.
“It costs us no more to vaccinate all the ewes as a
prevention, than it did to try to cure the lameness with foot
trimming, spraying and in severe cases antibiotic injection.
And it’s far less time-consuming,” he added.
The Swaledale ewes at Low Moor average a lambing percentage
of 160% plus, receiving a supplementary feed of hay in February
and March and high energy licks in the autumn.
The Swaledales on the better land at Lorton average around
“Despite the lambs lying next to their mothers they
do not get footrot whereas in the past, because it highly
infectious and easily transmitted from sheep to sheep, they
did. Not only would we have to attend to their mothers, but
often see up to 50 lambs at a time,” said Benson Hewitson.
Mule lambs are weaned in late summer because all ewe lambs
are retained for the commercial flock for crossing with Texel
and Suffolk rams.
They are sold on as two shear ewes through Penrith and District
Farmers’ Mart. The finished lambs and finished cattle
from the farm’s 50-cow Limousin cross suckler herd are
all sold at Mitchell’s Auction Company, Cockermouth.
© Copyright 2006 Jennifer
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