21 March 1997


Cattle lameness research by the Liverpool vet school offers useful pointers on how to identify and reduce incidence of this costly disease. Jessica Buss reports

REDUCING lameness in dairy cows depends on an effective recording system that will help identify whats causing new cases.

"Records allow the vet, producer and herdsman to work together to find solutions that will reduce lameness," says Richard Murray of the Liverpool vet school which has studied cattle lameness on 37 farms over the last five years.

"Find the true annual incidence excluding repeat treatments," he says. This allows individual farm data to be compared with the study figures which show the average incidence is 70 cases in every 100 cows a year – with a range from 15 to 180 – over a wide range of housing types.

Dr Murray advises organising farm records so that they allow you to calculate annual incidence of each type of lameness (see box). Using these four or five categories makes it easier to assess lameness on the farm, he suggests. "It is useful to take a whole winters cases into one annual figure using a spring year-end and identifying the main cause will help investments to be made correctly to improve lameness.

When incidence is seasonal, such as in summer, concentrate on improving the areas of risk at that time, he says. When winter lameness relates to poor hygiene reducing the amount of slurry cows stand in may help. But when poor hygiene is not the main cause, investing in slatted floors or automatic scrapers will not reduce lameness, he warns.

It may also be useful to record the lactation number of lame cows. "The older the cow the higher the risk of lameness should be," says Dr Murray. But when cubicle design or management is poor you could find the lameness incidence in younger animals is high because they do not lie down for long enough.

"The longer animals stand the greater the risks of lameness," he says. Outside cows would lie down for 12 or 13 hours a day.

One reason heifers dislike cubicles is the kerb height that makes them wary of backing out. They will turn around in these cubicles if they can or can back in, he adds. Bedding can also affect lying times.

Richard Murray (left) believes good use of farm records to make breeding decisions could reduce lameness incidence in Stephen Brandons herd.


&#8226 Overloading the outer claw: white line disease, ulcers, bruising.

&#8226 Poor hygiene: dermatitis, sore heels, underrun soles.

&#8226 Infections: foul.

&#8226 Injuries/interdigital foreign bodies.

&#8226 Others.


&#8226 Average incidence 70 cases/100 cows.

&#8226 Lowest incidence 15 cases/100 cows.

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