Lameness Undermines Dairy Herd Management

Dairy industry needs a systemic approach to dealing with the disease.

Published on: Jul 13, 2011

The dairy industry gets a "fail" grade when it comes to managing lameness, according to Dr. Nigel Cook with the University of Wisconsin in a presentation this morning to the American Dairy Science Assn./American Society of Animal Science Joint Annual Meeting in New Orleans, La. Cook said there is enough knowledge to "fix the problem" but the incidence of lameness is increasing. The dairy industry needs a systemic approach to dealing with the disease, which Cook said undermines dairy herd management.

The systemic approach needs to start with locomotion scoring, which has become more commonplace over the last eight years, and include economic considerations to "get the producer's attention." The next step is examining all aspects of the hoof trimming program -- techniques and capacity -- and then using detailed records to isolate patterns of problems and determine specific action plans.

Regarding hoof trimming protocols, Cook said techniques commonly used to trim cow hooves for herds housed in tie stalls or grazing herds are different than the techniques needed in large freestall-housed herds. Dairy producers should work with the hoof trimmers to determine proper techniques and to look at common problems that may arise.

Detailed records of lameness issues can help determine where problems lie, especially regarding the big 3 - digital dermatitis, white line disease and sole ulcers/lesions. Infectious digital dermatitis affects 20% of all cows worldwide at any one time, making it one of the most common infectious conditions in the world, Cook said.

Topical therapy such as hoof baths for lameness is "extremely effective," Cook said, but noted that a holistic approach including genetics, nutrition, housing, hoof bath management and identification of carrier cows is needed. Hoof baths are integral, he added, but there is no standard methods for building or using them. He noted that a hoof bath needs to be at least 10 ft. long in order for each hoof to get dunked twice, but a 12 ft. hoof bath is preferable so the hooves are dunked three times (the most common length of hoof bath is currently 6 ft.).

As far as non-infectious lameness is concerned, Cook said nutritionists are "off the hook" because there is an almost non-existent link between nutrition and laminitis. However, he did point out that nutritional management is important especially regarding sub-acute ruminal acidosis and adequate trace mineral nutrition. There are complex interactions between hoof health and diet, housing and parturition, Cook reported, with lameness issues often developing around freshening possibly related to the thickness of the hoof's fat pad. "Lameness is a fresh cow disease," Cook said, noting that information needs to be tracked through the dry period and transition period into subsequent lactations to follow problem cows.

Other factors that affect the incidence of lameness that Cook discussed include heat stress, flooring type and milking schedules (lame cows will produce more milk when milked twice per day rather than three times per day).

Cook concluded that the best strategy for controlling lameness in dairy cattle is to create a problem list to use to develop a specific action plan.