15 January 1999

Diets effect on lameness small

NUTRITION can influence lameness incidence, but because this link is poorly understood focusing on other areas of management may be better for lameness control.

Jill Offer of SAC Auchencruive told the conference that provided a diet was not extreme, its effect on lameness was small.

But research at SAC suggests the indirect effect of nutrition on metabolic stress – increasing lameness in older animals – may be more important than was thought. "But the mechanics of nutritional effects on lameness are not fully understood," said Dr Offer.

She illustrated this by pointing out that many studies have shown feeding high levels of concentrate increases lameness incidence, but research at SAC disputes that.

The SAC trial, studying animals for five lactations shows that once an animal has had white line disease, or a sole ulcer it is more likely to suffer lameness again.

Producers should, therefore, focus on management to cut the risks in younger animals. Consider housing them in straw yards to begin with to reduce the stress on their feet.

"Training heifers to use cubicles and the parlour before calving would benefit them. And avoid calving and housing simultaneously.

"Ensure cows have a clean environment to help cut skin infections, trim feet to keep them in good shape and footbath to reduce interdigital infections," she advised.

She also suggested training stockmen to identify lameness more effectively. Liverpool University research suggests up to half of all lame cows go unnoticed.