Developing a national database of lameness records - Veterinary Practice
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Developing a national database of lameness records

THE second Cattle Lameness Conference at the University of Nottingham has established the gathering as an important event for knowledge sharing. More and more inter-related projects, ranging from the academic to the hands-on, are demonstrating the value of accurate observation.

The discussion is not about the need to introduce control and disease reduction but how best to overcome any difficulties with successful application. The conference was presented in an easygoing manner, which was appreciated by the cross section of the industry that attended.

The value of a national database for lameness records was highlighted by David Coffey (Scottish Agricultural Colleges). Because of the effect of lameness on animal welfare, a genetic improvement in lameness is a high priority. Increased management costs and a reduction in profitability are well recognised.

Culling cows for lameness reduces the opportunity for genetic improvement. Farmer recordings of lameness incidents have been collated and it is felt that treatments for lameness are the basis of these records rather than lameness as recorded by researchers and vets. As lameness records increase, the opportunity exists to develop a national database and use the information for genetic selection. Lameness traits would be based on aspects of milk production and non production. Farmers should be encouraged to provide records but there is a danger if supermarkets utilise the data to create a unique sales advantage.

A national database needs to include all data sources and it is hoped that sources will not be withheld in order to obtain a shortterm commercial advantage. In discussion, it emerged that the treatment for lameness by veterinary surgeons may indicate that the cow should not be used to breed dairy replacements. Breeding advice is just one of the possible outcomes from investigating a large national database.

Hoofprints analysed

The hoofprints made by cows as they walk over different surfaces have been measured and analysed by researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Christer Bergsten presented an analysis of the preferences for comfort
selected by the cows.

The average herd size in Sweden is 62 with half of the herds having cows tied and half utilising cubicles. The national herd is made up of 51% Swedish Holstein and 43% Swedish Red. Claw horn lesions are directly related to the physical and traumatic environment.

Healthy cows walk more efficiently on rubber mats than on concrete floors, with both stride and step length significantly increased. A series of slides showed cows in the collecting yard before milking showing a strong preference, with rubber on one side and concrete on the other, and on exiting the parlour it tends to be the subservient cows that are pushed onto the concrete.

Moderately lame cows walk slower than non lame cows and have a shorter stride. Slatted concrete disadvantages the gait of lame cows. All solid floors were less slippery than slatted floors. Elastic rubber mats had the best friction properties for the cows. Heifers in first lactation, using the 20mm rubber mat walkways, had the lowest incidence of sole haemorrhage, sole ulcer and white line haemorrhage.

Hygiene and drainage of surfaces in contact with the hoof is of the utmost importance with particular emphasis on reducing dermatitis and heel horn erosion. Whatever the surfaces, management is a significant factor. If heifers are moved from straw to concrete, there is an increase in white line haemorrhages. In discussion it was suggested that surfaces where cows stand were the most important areas for rubber matting.

Healthy feet project

The work at Bristol with the Healthy Feet Project is identifying ways to put research and understanding into practice. David Main outlined important observations from the team involved that are of direct benefit to veterinary practices.

It is all very well recognising the risk factors but transferring this knowledge into effective management of the herd is not easy. Full details are in the conference proceedings.

There is a need for the farmer to have ownership of any changes and solutions. A farmer-owned approach “recognises that farmers hold skills and knowledge that most veterinary surgeons and advisers will never be able to duplicate”. The term “percentage lame” is confrontational and best changed to “would benefit from treatment”.

With reference to the foot health issues within his own family, Nick Bell (University of Bristol) declared that zero lameness is achievable. Appreciation of the protective factor may explain the absence of lameness on farms that present with numerous risk factors.

Highlighting the attributes of farms without disease may appear obvious but it is rarely done. Urgent change is required to develop low-risk production systems and “there is no better time for the sector to create and agree the necessary incentives to make the state of zero lameness prevalence an economically worthwhile objective”.

Strong commercial drivers would give farmers the confidence to improve cattle welfare and zero lameness would become more than just an aspiration for the visionary or principled farmer. Whole industry benefits can be achieved.

Robust tool

Throwing a computer like a frisbee is one way of demonstrating the onfarm robustness of a valuable tool being used by Synergy Farm Health to record foot health on clients farms

John Reader explained the recording aspects and Mark Burnell highlighted the treatment and hoof care approach taken by the practice that employs five paraprofessional hoof trimmers, who also carry out mobility scoring.

The DairyCo fourstage mobility scoring protocol (0-3) has been adopted with the same person carrying out the scoring each time, usually as the cows leave the parlour after afternoon milking.

Identification of cows can be a problem and the numbers of the cows being milked are entered on the “ruggedized” laptop before they exit the parlour. Identifying the freeze brand is easier from within a small group. Siting of the scorer is important so that cows do not stop to investigate.

The results are available at the end of the scoring session and an action list for urgent attention is printed off. Cows showing mobility score 2 or 3 are examined within 48 to 72 hours unless already undergoing treatment. The same recording software is used for the foot-trimming list.

Data from herds are showing the value of interpretation for mobility score 1 cows. Is a cow moving towards more severe lameness and possibly requiring treatment or is she moving towards MS 0? The herd records will indicate probabilities that are specific to that herd, thereby offering targeted relative actions. The recognition of lameness needs to occur as early as possible.

Mobility Scoring overcomes “lameness tolerance” by the herdsman who may only recognise MS 3 cows. Between fortnightly scoring sessions, 48% of cows have shown a change. Individual cow scores are important as well as herd assessments.

Training of a “foot care” member of the farm staff is necessary to recognise when help is required as action needs to be taken on that day. A crush should be well maintained, under cover, in good light and the farm should have well-designed footbathing facilities.

The role of the foot trimmer is to work together with the vet. Lesion recording is part of foot care. When cases are referred to a veterinary surgeon, the value of early referral of problem cases needs to be demonstrated. There is no excuse for excision of live tissue without appropriate anaesthesia.

Understanding from research and the application on the farm to reduce lameness was well presented and provided many areas for thought. The possibility of adapting existing technology to record changes in the movements of a cow, so providing a lameness alert, may be a future development.

  • The best poster award went to Owen Atkinson from Lambert, Leonard & May, a colourful schematic entitled “No More Lame Excuses, using the cycle of change to develop a successful lameness reduction plan”. Suitable for the practice office wall perhaps.

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