Industry professionals are urging sheep producers in high rainfall areas of SA to be on the alert as footrot cases surge.
Recent data from PIRSA footrot program manager Ian Sanderson revealed 45 flocks are under quarantine.
Fourteen cases have been identified in the South East region, with Kangaroo Island at 19 and the Mid North recording nine infected flocks as of May.
Mr Sanderson said wet springs in the past two years setup ideal conditions for the increase in the virulence of the bacteria that causes the disease.
“There has been a gradual increase of cases in recent years by way of comparison, the numbers during the years of 2007 to 2011 ranged from four cases in 2007 which was a very dry year, to 21 flocks being infected in 2010,” Mr Sanderson said.
“In the 2016 spring, we detected more footrot in the Mid North area as for many years the rainfall is generally not sufficient in that area to allow the disease to fully express,” he said.
“Conditions existing in the SE and KI in most spring-summer periods are, however, suitable for footrot to be an issue.”
PIRSA chief veterinary officer Roger Paskin agrees, saying high rainfall events in July to August will always produce a spike in footrot cases late in the year.
“We have had some flocks with 10 to 20 pc of sheep infected with both strains of footrot, being ovine and virulent, which is quite a lot,” Dr Paskin said.
“We are seeing a general increase across the state, but we are definitely finding hot spots in the SE, Mid North, in particular Clare, Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills areas, which are unexpected as we have never seen much of it there in the past,” he said.
“It’s a worry because it’s a welfare problem as well as a disease problem as it can cause serious economic loss and a great deal of pain and discomfort to the sheep.”
Dr Paskin’s greatest concern with the higher footrot prevalence is that it has become an “ecological phenomenon”.
“In terms of transferring from the paddock to the saleyard, we have detected a couple of cases but producers are fairly responsible,” he said.
He said PIRSA was collaborating with Victorian and Western Australian industry bodies to implement a new footrot diagnostic test to try and reduce the time from taking sheep foot swabs to forming a result from weeks to days.
“We’re attempting to learn more about environmental triggers that exacerbate footrot but we’ve only just started research,” he said.
Livestock SA president Geoff Power is reminding producers that footrot detection comes with repercussions, including expiation notices if producers sell infected stock at saleyards.
“We have had some infected sheep in the saleyards down the South East but it was a case of producers not realising it had popped up within their flocks,” Mr Power said.
“Footrot fines are hefty; now that it is a problem too, you can bet your life stock inspectors will be keeping a close lookout for it,” he said.
“In terms of prevalence as far as the SE goes, it is an ongoing problem because it is a reasonably wet area but as far as the Mid North goes not in my memory have I seen it to the extent it has presented since last year,” he said.
Dr Paskin urged producers to seek advice from their veterinarian if they suspect infection within the flock, labelling the disease “the gift that keeps on giving”.
“If you have limping sheep you have a footrot problem and if you don’t get it early it has the potential to hang around for a long time and take up to two years to remove it from the flock,” he said.
PIRSA footrot program manager Ian Sanderson said fines for cases detected in the saleyard vary from about $300 to $1300.
“If you are under quarantine for footrot, the only option for selling the sheep is for slaughter,” Mr Sanderson said.