By: Daryl Kleinschmit, Ph.D., Research Nutritionist, Zinpro Corporation
It is estimated that each clinically lame cow costs a producer roughly R4,000 as lameness impacts EVERYTHING that a cow does throughout her day. Farm profitability may suffer through decreased milk production and fertility, increased treatment and labor costs, and early culling in the absence of a proper lameness control program.
Because lameness can be caused by many factors, ranging from housing conditions and nutrition to management practices and the environment, tackling the problem can be more than challenging. However, with the establishment and maintenance of an effective, on-going programme to identify, prevent and treat lameness, dairy producers can make significant strides to minimise lameness.
Using Locomotion Scoring to Identify Lameness
The first step in establishing an effective lameness reduction plan is to determine the incidence and severity of lameness within the herd. Locomotion scoring (Sprecher et al., 1997; Figure 1) is a simple and useful tool to help improve lameness recognition on the dairy. It uses a 1 to 5 scale and is based upon observation of the cow standing and walking, with special emphasis on the cow’s back posture. The system focuses on back arching as evidence of weight redistribution. Research has shown that of the behaviors exhibited by cows with claw lesions, spinal curvature had the highest numerical correlation to presence of claw lesions.
It should be noted that cows should be scored when they are standing and walking on a flat, level surface that provides adequate traction. Cows walking up or down a slope, or on slippery flooring, will short-stride and thus arch their back to improve footing, which will artificially alter locomotion or lameness scores. Cows should walk normally and not run when being scored.
Through the use of locomotion scoring, dairy producers can assess the incidence and severity of lameness within their herd. By identifying even slight back arching, personnel may be able to catch lameness in its initial stages, and treat it before more serious lesions develop. Knowledge of lameness incidence and severity also provides a benchmark for measuring intervention effectiveness to determine whether corrective steps are producing adequate reductions in number of lame animals.
Image courtesy of Zinpro Corporation.
Determine underlying causes
Accurate identification of claw lesions is critical to the development of an effective corrective action plan. A logical place to start is with a thorough examination by a trained hoof trimmer, because 95% of the lesions that cause lameness occur in the feet (Clarkson et al., 1996).
The First Step® Dairy Claw Lesion Identification Guide provides a consistent approach to lesion identification, naming and record keeping in the dairy industry. Zinpro Corporation, in cooperation with the International Lameness Committee, developed this guide that allows dairy personnel to refer to an atlas of colour photographs, descriptions, claw zones and single-letter abbreviations to help identify common claw lesions.
Once lesions have been recorded, data should be analysed to determine what lesions are most prevalent and to determine if there is any seasonality or stage of lactation effect. To help with record interpretation and treatment, lesions should be classified as either infectious or non-infectious.
Infectious claw lesions
The most common types of infectious claw lesions include digital dermatitis and foot rot. The primary risk factors associated with increased incidence of infectious lesions (Figure 2) include wet conditions, poor foot hygiene and presence of other infected animals in the herd. A prerequisite for development of digital dermatitis and foot rot is local injury of the skin either between the claws or in the heel bulb region. This can be the result of a traumatic lesion caused by a foreign object or by maceration of skin by water, faeces and urine. Keeping pens, and pastures clean, dry and free of foreign objects can substantially reduce the incidence of infectious lesions. In addition, footbaths (when used correctly), may help prevent infectious lesions. However, if used incorrectly, footbaths can become a vector for the transmission of infectious lesions.
Non-infectious claw lesions
Commonly diagnosed non-infectious claw lesions include white line disease, sole ulcer, and toe ulcer. The primary risk factors (Figure 3) for developing non-infectious claw lesions include overcrowding, prolonged standing, slippery or abrasive flooring, poorly designed stalls, improper claw trimming, post-calving metabolic disorders, poor nutrition or abrupt diet changes and heat stress.
While there are many causes of non-infectious lesions, proper identification of lesions, as well as recording the zone(s) in which the lesion(s) occurs will help determine the root cause and best course of action. For example, toe ulcers may point to thin soles from excessive trimming or abrasive flooring as the underlying cause, while sole ulcers may be indicative of prolonged standing or overgrown claws.
Figure 3: Risk factors and prevention of non-infectious claw lesions
Monitor To Track Progress
To evaluate the effectiveness of lameness reduction plans, cattle should be monitored for improvement using locomotion scoring. In most cases, if the corrective action plan is effective, locomotion scores should improve in less than two weeks, if cows are primarily afflicted by infectious lesions. Because horn growth is relatively slow, non-infectious lesions may take several weeks or months before improvement is noted.
To learn more about locomotion scoring in dairy cattle, contact Zinpro distributor Chemuniquè and visit the First Step video library on www.zinpro.com
CONTACT: Jackie Tucker; 082 571 2165; Jackie@chemunique.co.za