Healthy animal starts from the ground up

Lameness in cattle is a painful and costly condition.

Research from the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine found that 16 percent of all health issues in a feedlot and 70 percent of lost revenue are associated with lameness.

It is the second most commonly diagnosed illness in feedlots, graduate student Jessica Davis-Unger said during the school’s annual beef health conference held in Calgary held in June.

“There is limited knowledge on the cost of lameness,” she said.

However, it is realized that a lame animal eats less and takes longer to reach market weight. There are added costs for treatment, and if it relapses or does not recover, it may have to go to market earlier or be put down.

Causes and costs were evaluated working with 10 years worth of private veterinary clinic data and information from 28 southern Alberta feedlots.

It was found that costs were the highest for injury, joint infections and lameness with no swelling. Profits could be non-existent when market conditions were considered.

“When cattle prices were low, lame cattle are more costly to keep and feed in a feeding program,” she said.

Detecting lameness early on means treatments can start sooner.

However, it is important to notice an animal is lame and figure out the cause so that the right treatment is used, said veterinarian Dr. Karin Orsel.

“We don’t need antibiotics to treat animals that cannot move, that suffer from a fracture or neurological damage,” she said.

“We have to pay attention to what kind of lameness we are dealing with.”

A lame animal can be detected by a bobbing head, altered ear position or a painful facial expression.

Observe the posture of the cow if possible and compare the left and right sides. The animal may shift its weight from left to right and may not be comfortable standing.

Sometimes the lameness is quite subtle. An animal decides over time to favour one leg, and the injured muscles deteriorate.

Look for swelling and wounds, especially after injuries.

Toe touching is seen when the animal touches the ground with the toe rather than bearing weight on the leg.

“By the time they are reluctant to move, by the time they can’t get up, it is too late,” she said.

Cows that cannot move may have:

  • fracture
  • injury
  • nerve damage
  • muscle damage
  • ruptured gastrocnemius tendon, an inflammation or degeneration of the tendon at the back of the knee

Feedlot records have shown that fall placed cattle seem more susceptible to foot rot, and steers are more often affected than heifers.

There are other conditions that result in lameness.

“They try to hide it, but we have to be smart enough to pick up subtle signs to really diagnose pain and with that, potential lameness,” Orsel said.

Mycoplasma arthritis is common in feedlots and cow-calf operations. It is often discovered following a stressful event such as transportation or commingling.

Trauma in general is relatively common in feedlots, where cattle are riding others in the pens or suffer from a handling injury. Heavier cattle are more susceptible to trauma.

An abnormal stance of the limb may be the result of nerve damage or severe ligament injuries.

Nerve injury may be seen in large newborn calves, especially if unusual force was used during an assisted birth. It cannot contract the front of the thigh because the nerve is damaged. The animal needs supportive care and could improve over time.

Foot rot is the most common diagnosis in feedlot animals and may be seen more after snowfall when the pens become wet or animals hurt their feet on rough edges if bedding is frozen.

If a foot rot is not responding to therapy, it warrants reassessment because the animal may have digital dermatitis or hairy heel warts.

This bacterial disease is more common in dairy cattle, but there is increasing prevalence among feeders.

Digital dermatitis is a highly contagious, erosive infection that usually affects the skin on the bulbs of the heel. However, it can also be found between the digits or in the area of the coronary band.

It thrives in damp, dirty conditions. The animal may not respond to systemic antibiotics.

Laminitis is related to feeding a high concentrate and carbohydrate rich diet.

Sole abscesses are regularly seen. They can be trimmed and solved with a course of antibiotics.

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