4/10/2017 1:55:00 PM Prevent lameness before it happens Cow, employee management influencing factors
William Malecha and his mom, Louise, pay close attention to lameness on their 950-cow dairy near Villard, Minn. Since the dairy first began, the Malechas have been monitoring lameness. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
Louise Malecha reviews the list of cows scheduled for the hoof trimmer. Each week, Malecha monitors the list and adjusts it, making sure cows are routinely trimmed twice each year and lame cows are cared for immediately. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE
by Jennifer Coyne
VILLARD, Minn. - When Todd and Louise Malecha first started dairying, they implemented a management protocol to monitor and treat lame cows. Now, preventing lameness is of top priority at the Malechas' farm. "We record everything that happens to a cow, and that includes lameness. We want to know what's going on with her and why she may be acting a certain way," said Louise, who milks 950 cows with her family near Villard, Minn. The importance of monitoring lameness is two-fold, being beneficial for animal comfort and welfare, as well as the farm's bottom line.
Mechanical, infectious causes of lameness There are several lameness lesions found on a farm, however, the most common are digital dermatitis, or hairy heel warts, sole ulcers and white line disease. While the causes of each lameness case may vary, they are categorized by either being claw horn defects or infectious. "It can be really difficult to break down the exact cause of lameness," Dr. Ernest Hovingh said. "There are management issues, where the disease is caused by people, and then there are diseases caused by bacterial infections." Hovingh is a veterinarian at Penn State University. Of the three most common lameness lesions, digital dermatitis is directly related to the hygiene of the animals. This lesion is found amongst lactating cows, but can also be seen in animals as young as breeding age heifers. "Animals with chronic lesions spread this disease throughout the farm," said Karl Burgi, Dairyland Hoof Care Institute. "New animals with compromised skin integrity, caused by manure build up on the hooves, also contract hairy heel warts." Sole ulcers and white line disease are claw horn disruptions and result from trauma of horn overgrowth, extended standing, rough cow handling or poor floor design. Cows are at a greater risk of developing a sole ulcer during a period of transition when the ulcer will surface around peak milk production, and habits associated with long periods of standing. "Heat stress is a huge culprit and so is poor cow comfort when cows perch in the stalls," Burgi said. Trauma caused by slippery and rough floors, excessive use of a crowd gate, or rough cow handling results in damage to the white line area of the heel. Lameness is immediately noticed and results in a white line lesion. "You have the very lame cows who won't put any weight on the lame foot or might go down and won't get up," Hovingh said. "But what's missed is the small limp, and that's important to pay attention to when you need to identify lameness in the herd."
Economics of a lame cow Lameness is a painful condition for cows to experience and affects multiple facets of animal health from feed intake to reproductive performance to milk production. "Cows won't be aggressive at the feed bunk and that carries through in milk production, reproduction and body condition score," Hovingh said. "If it becomes a chronic condition, that becomes an animal welfare condition." While an infectious lesion does not affect the structure of the foot, it does have a greater effect on the overall health of the animal. "We know that heifers with digital dermatitis take 29 days longer to be confirmed pregnant and we've seen a loss of 720 pounds of milk in their lactation," Burgi said. However, mechanical lesions can be costly. Research has shown that white line disease can result in a loss of $350 per case and sole ulcers can cost upwards of $550 per case, Burgi said. If not properly dealt with, lameness ultimately results in cull cows. "As animals become more lame there's a better chance of them leaving the farm because of the loss in milk," said Louise's son, William.
Treating, preventing the problem By closely monitoring the herd, lameness can be prevented, and if detected, treated in a timely manner. "There's not one complete package to treat and prevent lameness," Hovingh said. "It's a lot of different things, and the overall lameness prevention plan will vary from farm to farm." Digital dermatitis is a chronic disease that if not treated quickly will reoccur over the cow's lifetime and become a continual issue on the farm. "Cows always come in with hairy heel warts," William said. "To manage them, we run the cows through a footbath four days in a row and then three days off." Footbaths are used to prevent the infectious disease from becoming widespread and control the chronic condition; however, it does not cure the problem. To prevent the onset of new infections, keep standing areas clear of manure and do not overcrowd pens. "The key is to watch weekly and treat weekly," Burgi said. Both sole ulcers and white line disease can be prevented with routine hoof trimming, proper cow handling and improving cow comfort. "Functional trimming can prevent a lot of sole ulcers, if done at the right time," Burgi said. The Malechas follow a strict hoof trimming schedule to ensure their animals are at a lesser risk of becoming lame. "Each cow is trimmed twice a year and then our trimmer notes any lameness issues or reasons to bring the cow back," Louise said. The Malechas' herdsman also walks the pens once a week to catch the first signs of lameness. "Watch the cows as they come back from the parlor, or if it's a tiestall barn, watch how they walk while outside," Hovingh said. "An indication of lameness is a slightly arched back that worsens with severity." Implementing a lameness prevention protocol is essential in optimizing the health and well-being of the animals. The protocol should address lying time of 12 to 14 hours per day; a time budget of less than three hours per day away from the stalls; efficient heat abatement; secure flooring; good stockmanship and employee training; and a routine footbath. "Everyone works together to watch for lame cows," Louise said. "We want to fix the problem before it becomes an issue." Burgi agreed. "We have to start approaching it in the same sense as we do mastitis and treat right away," he said. "We can't tolerate lameness."