Lame sheep game - Exeter research helps fight global superbug problem

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A new citizen science study is trying to understand how easy it is to spot lameness in sheep, to help reduce the use of antibiotics in farming and fight the global problem of antimicrobial resistance.

Researchers at the University of Exeter have come up with a simulation game where players have to pick out which sheep they think are showing signs of lameness.

Sheep's feet need to be checked regularly Credit: ITV WEST COUNTRY

Sheep can be prone to bacterial infections like foot-rot and scald - the first sign of that is that they begin to walk with a limp.

Farmers need to use antibiotics to effectively treat the main causes of lameness, but extensive use of antibiotics increases the risk of bacteria building resistance to antibiotics.

If lameness can be spotted early, it can be treated early, reducing the need for repeated antibiotic doses as the disease progresses.

Sheep farmer Holly Vickery, from Wincanton in Somerset, says "There's a really golden window for treating lameness in sheep and you really want to treat it within the first three days.

There are a few different things that can cause lameness and some of them need to be treated with a topical antibiotic and ideally, if we can do that as soon as possible, we can avoid a lengthy course of injectible antibiotics."

Players are challenged with spotting the early signs of lameness in sheep as fast as they can Credit: University of Exeter

Dr Matt Lloyd Jones, who is leading the research project, says "It may seem like a bit of fun or a silly idea but actually research has proven that games are a really effective way for people to engage with research on complex issues like lameness and antibiotic reduction.

"The more data we collect and the more people participate, the better understanding we will have of what makes someone good at identifying early lameness so that we can share that knowledge with other farmers.Researchers want as many people as possible to take part, whether they are farmers or not, by playing the game on their website.