Benchmark’s Five-point sheep lameness initiative wins £10,000 OFC/RASE Science and Innovation award

Pexels sheep pic

Veterinary surgeon, Ruth Clements, has won the Oxford Farming Conference/RASE Science & Innovation Award for the 5-Point Plan developed to tackle sheep lameness. The award has been kindly sponsored by Adama UK.

The blueprint, developed by Ms Clements of Benchmark Holdings plc, has been embraced by the UK’s sheep sector as a ‘multi-action’ programme designed to tackle the endemic and complex diseases that cause lameness.

The £10,000 prize money will be invested into continuing the work needed to implement and monitor the 5-Point Plan more widely across the industry.

“Lameness is thought to affect at least 10% of sheep at any one time costing the industry an estimated £24 million/year as a result of lost productivity and the direct costs of antibiotics,” Ms Clements explains.

The industry’s need to address this problem, coupled with a chronic lameness problem within the company’s own 1,200-ewe flock on their FAI farm in Oxford, drove Ms Clements to find a solution alongside stakeholders including: DEFRA, AHDB, The National Sheep Association, Moredon and the State Veterinary Service.

The ‘5-Point Plan’ principles are:

  1. To cull repeatedly affected animals;
  2. Quarantine incoming animals;
  3. Treat clinical cases early;
  4. Avoid spread during handling;
  5. Vaccination to stimulate immunity.

"In 2010, I began the project, working with innovative farmers who had reported their control of the problem,” Ms Clements says. “Like with any complex problem, we had to develop multiple actions to overcome it.”

She adds that the ‘5-Point’ approach could also be adopted for other complex problems such as parasitic gastroenteritis in sheep, sea lice in farmed salmon and the control of herbicide-resistant blackgrass.

The Award was founded six years ago, by the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) and the RASE, to recognise a recent invention, technology or scientific advance that has really boosted on-farm performance or profitability.

According to OFC Director and judge, John Gilliland, “the 5-Point Plan is a worthy winner because it brings a practical solution to a problem encountered on almost all sheep farms in the UK. Ruth has also worked hard to gain the support of the wider industry to implement this approach as an industry standard, which is no mean feat.” 

Previous winners of the OFC/RASE Science and Innovation Award include the 360 Sow Farrowing system developed by Martin Barker, NIAB CUF’s potato modelling system, The Cool Farm Tool (CFT) developed by Dr Jon Hillier and his team at Aberdeen University and the Alltech/Keenan Mech Fiber system.

The Award is funded by the OFC and the RASE with additional sponsored support from Adama. “It aims to encourage and distinguish new thinking and innovation and is open to academics, researchers and commercial company employees,” Mr Gilliland adds.  

The £10,000 prize is split with £3,000 - funded by Adama - being presented to the lead individual and £7,000, funded by the RASE and the OFC, to the institution or business the researcher works for.  The latter monies will be used to support further research work into the subject, through the support of a studentship, traineeship or the purchase of a piece of research equipment. This year’s award was kindly supported by a media partner, Profi International.

Ruth Clements was presented with her award at the 2017 Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday 4 January 2017.