Lameness preventable, treatment costly: expert

Animal behaviourist Temple Grandin says better livestock management can improve diagnosis and ensure proper treatment

MANHATTAN, Kan. — More lame cattle are showing up at packing plants.

The problem is connected to genetics and management, which needs to be addressed before a bad condition is accepted as normal, said animal behaviourist Temple Grandin of Colorado State University.

“We’ve got to head this one off at the pass,” she said at the International Beef Welfare Symposium, which was held in Manhattan, Kansas, June 8-10.

“Let’s make sure it does not become a problem.”

Lameness due to poor foot and leg structure was common in market hogs and is now appearing in fat cattle. The animals cannot walk properly and are in pain, which makes it a welfare issue.

A survey of leg conformation of cattle arriving at Colorado and Texas feedlots showed 86 percent were fine. Within that study, cattle originating from the northern states had more problems, such as scissor claw and corkscrew foot, than did those from the south.

A three-year study at Agriculture Canada found that lameness among feedlot cattle is more common than previously thought: almost six percent per year compared to 9.4 percent for respiratory disease.

“We always talk about respiratory disease and what a huge problem it is, but lameness is only second to respiratory disease,” said Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein of the Lethbridge Research Centre.

As many as half the animals in the sick pens were lame, she added.

Feedlot staff did not think there was much lameness, and often problems were misdiagnosed.

Lameness represented 30 percent of all treated animals in a year compared to 46 percent treated for respiratory disease. There were relapse rates of about eight percent, and nearly eight percent of euthanized cattle were killed because of lameness.

“Lameness is an important health and welfare issue at our feedyards,” she said.

The researchers looked at health records and checked live animals.

Lameness treatment costs were $8.40 to $42.20 per animal, de-pending on the drugs used and if there were relapses.

Additional relapse increased costs by $3.50, and the production loss was estimated at $81.40 per animal.

Lame cattle take longer to reach market weight, and were about 49 kilograms lighter than non-lame cattle, so the economic costs are greater than anticipated.

Foot rot and digital dermatitis were the most common forms of lameness. The researchers also saw cattle with joint injuries, laminitis and structural problems.

“In the last five years, feedyards in our area have had an increase in digital dermatitis. Cowboys were not really aware of what it was,” she said.

Feedlot staff typically record foot rot as the cause of lameness, but it may also be a painful condition called digital dermatitis. The correct diagnosis is needed to provide the proper treatment.

“Once it comes into your facility, it is extremely difficult to get rid of it,” she said.

Improved diagnosis is needed to improve welfare and reduce antibiotic use, but most feedlots are not set up to look at feet properly.

“You need to look at those feet to do an appropriate diagnosis,” she said.

Strategies to reduce lameness are still being assembled to provide advice to control and treat lameness.

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