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Lameness Causes & Prevention

Lameness: A key factor in herd performance and profitability

Lameness: A key factor in herd performance and profitability

Poor foot health can have a significant impact on yield, fertility and longevity.

According to DairyCo: “The average cost of an incidence of lameness, in terms of treatment costs, loss of yield and potential for shortened productive life of the cow may be in the region of £180; at current levels of incidence this could equate to a financial loss of nearly £15,000 for an average-sized herd, or to put it another way, a cost of well over 1p per litre of milk produced on the farm”.

Causes of lameness fall into four main categories:

  1. Physical environmental factors - such as insufficient cubicle space, badly designed feed barriers, poor quality flooring or cow tracks. Sole ulcers for example could have been caused by cows with heat stress perhaps three months earlier, standing for long periods trying to cool off rather than lying down
  2. Management factors - including standing in collecting yards for too long or ineffective foot trimming
  3. Infectious diseases - digital dermatitis in particular (see Nick Barradale’s article in December 2016 edition of this Newsletter)
  4. Nutritional factors - this could be an imbalanced ration e.g. too much protein or animals on a plane of nutrition that is too low for their performance. A mineral deficiency would also come into this category

Whatever the cause, helping to ensure that the hoof tissue is as healthy as possible is essential in helping to address the issues identified above, although it is obviously not a substitute for good management! It has long been known that elements such as zinc and biotin can really help to improve hoof health. Zinc is involved in the health and replenishment of body tissue including hoof and horn. It is also involved in immune system function and wound healing, so is a really important element for all livestock. Improving the availability of zinc by providing it in a protected form can be particularly useful in improving herd hoof health.

The cow will replace sole and heel horn every three-four months, however she only replaces coronary horn (e.g. that which grows from the top of the hoof toward the sole) every 18-20 months so this is almost a two year cycle. This is the same process by which the human nail is repaired or replaced. If you have ever hit your finger with a hammer or trapped your finger in a door you will know that it can take many months for the black or broken nail to grow back.

Biotin is a vitamin with the benefits of its use for hoof health well documented. Biotin is involved in the production of keratin, which is the substance that affects the strength of the hoof.

If you imagine that the cell structure of the hoof as a brick wall, keratin is the mortar that holds the cells together. The strength of the Keratin can vary and thus affect the strength of the hoof tissue.

Including biotin in the ration can help to improve the strength of the keratin binding the hoof cells together. It is important to ensure that biotin is supplied at the correct level (20mg/head/daily) every day. Because of the way that the cow replaces hoof tissue over a two year cycle (as described above), it is important to ensure that all cows receive the correct level every day (don’t forget the dry cows!). It is also worth considering the inclusion of biotin in calf and heifer diets so that they have had the full benefit by the time they enter the herd rather than having to wait a further two years!

For more information on mineral related topics call 01278 420481 or email [email protected]


Source Details

John Lawrence, Minerals

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