Straw-based diets can reduce foot lesions

Rearing heifers on a straw-based diet (86% DM) rather than a silage-based diet (24% DM) has been shown to significantly reduce sole lesions in the first lactation, and may provide a sounder footing for the remainder of their time in the herd, according to research at Scottish Agricultural Colleges.

Colin Mason of SAC told delegates at the Cattle Lameness Conference, in Worcester that diet had a big impact on heifer routine.

Those fed a dry, straw-based diet spent more time lying than standing and produced firmer faeces. The latter didn’t foul the housed environment as much as watery faeces, produced by the wet diet. Both elements contributed to better foot condition in first lactation.

“The ability to offer a straw-based diet will vary depending on a farm’s location and availability of feedstuffs. The take-home message to farmers is clear. If ample straw supplies exist, then rearing heifers on a drier diet pays dividend.”

Typically, heifers were reared on ad-lib silage, 2kg of 18% cake, 0.5kg soya and 200g minerals a head a day. The comparison group were offered ad-lib straw, 8kg super grains, 3kg sugar beet pulp and 200g minerals a head a day. Monitoring of foot condition continued through the first six months after calving.

“Although genetics has an impact on a cow’s susceptibility to lameness, environmental factors have greater impact,” he added.

Other conference highlights:

  • Cows that have feet trimmed twice yearly are 70% less likely to develop sole ulcers than those trimmed once a year – Colin Mason, SAC.

  • Cattle that spend time standing half-in, half-out of cubicles are more likely to develop digital dermatitis during their current lactation – Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARDNI)

  • A clean water pre-dip, followed by a single 5% copper sulphate solution, is just as effective as two 2.5% solutions in controlling digital dermatitis – DARDNI

  • More cases of dwarfism are being seen in suckler herds. In a recent survey, 75% of farms quizzed had suffered cases in newborn calves – SAC

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