The effect of footrot on weight gain in sheep.

G. J. Nieuwhof, S. C. Bishop, W. G. Hill, H. W. Raadsma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Footrot is a highly contagious bacterial disease of sheep affecting the interdigital skin and surrounding soft and hard horn of a hoof often resulting in severe lameness. This study was aimed at estimating the effect of footrot on weight gain of affected animals, and characterising the variation between animals in terms of phenotypic, environmental and genetic components. A general approach was developed describing the relationship between the disease and weight gain, defining new traits such as the maximum weight loss as a result of disease and the time after infection that this occurs. In two trials, 1267 Merino sheep were artificially challenged with footrot when 10 months old and re-infected through exposure to footrot on pasture 33 weeks later Their feet were scored for footrot and live weights were measured approximately every 3 weeks. From data on animals that were not affected by footrot throughout each trial, normal growth curves were calculated and applied to affected animals to predict their growth had they remained healthy, so that weight loss as a result of footrot could be predicted. Animals with average footrot severity in the two trials suffered weight losses of 0.5 to 2.5kg live weight, but most animals regained lost live weight later in the trials as footrot healed following vaccination. The estimates of the heritabilities of weight loss adjusted for the severity of footrot, were about 0.30 and 0.15 in the experimental and natural challenge groups respectively. Animals with higher genotypic values for weights at the start of each trial appeared to cope better with infections, in terms of lower weight losses. The time of highest footrot score and the time of maximum weight loss after infection had only very small genetic components.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1427-1436
Number of pages10
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008

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