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Lameness in Dairy Herds

May 14, 2014

Managing lameness within your dairy herd is important to profitability.
By: Tracey Erickson, Dairy Field Specialist, SDSU Extension

Typically spring brings an increase in moisture, resulting in muddy lots or simply moister environments due to rain or snow melt. Within the dairy operation this intensifies the need to focus on foot care and lameness. Lameness continues to be one of the major reasons for culling and lost milk production in dairy herds.

One of the best ways to minimize lameness occurring in your herd is to be proactive by having a management plan in place.

Early detection of locomotion problems is key to identification and treatment of lameness. Using the Locomotion Scoring System (referenced in Wet Weather: Lameness and Mastitis) will help you in your surveillance and herd monitoring. Keep in mind that the goal of locomotion scoring is to identify cattle that are having difficulty walking. This should be done by all employees and they should report limping cattle immediately to the herd manager.

Next within your herd you need to determine the type of lameness a cow is experiencing. If you are unsure, work with your herd veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis. For example, you may have a cow that has a claw issue within its hoof caused by uneven growth of the claw, a sole ulcer, or white line disease. All of these conditions are initiated by some form of laminitis (founder) which is brought on by a nutritional imbalance. Or you may be dealing with interdigital dermatitis, foot rot, or digital dermatitis (also known as hairy heel warts). These particular conditions are caused by a variety of infectious agents but are all enhanced by wet environmental conditions. Tracking the type of lameness occurring within your herd will help you as you formulate a management plan for both prevention and treatment options.

Other preventative management practices besides locomotion scoring and record keeping include: regular trimming of hooves, at a minimum every 6 months; utilization of footbaths or hoof sprayer systems to manage infectious causes of lameness; and feeding a balanced ration to minimize the incidence of subacute rumen acidosis occurring (American Association of Bovine Practioners [AABP], 2014).

Environmental conditions referenced by the AABP (2014) causing an increase in lameness include excess moisture and manure, heat stress, and improper flooring. Heat stress causes animals to reduce the amount of time lying down as they try to cool themselves. Poor footing can cause issues via: improper concrete grooving, causing slippage or excess wear on the sole of the hoof; joint and tendon stress if cattle are forced to stand for a long period of time on concrete; cracks or penetration of the skin or hoof caused by foreign material or by being forced to walk on extremely rough surfaces. Excess moisture and manure will cause irritation and deterioration of the skin and hoof sole and increase the ability of infectious agents to penetrate the foot.

For more recommendations on management of lameness in dairy the American Association of Bovine Practitioners has an excellent guideline titled Lameness in Dairy and Beef Herds.

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