A major beef packer announced in 2013 it would no longer accept cattle treated with the beta agonist Zilmax because it appeared to be connected to lame slaughter cattle.
Since then, researchers have worked to assess the extent of the mobility problems.
Jacob Hagenmaier of Elanco participated in research to assess the extent of lameness and presented results at the University of Calgary veterinary summit held June 19-21.
In 2015, the North American Meat Institute, which represents packers, developed a one- to four-point scoring system to assess slaughter cattle. A score of one indicates normal while four means the animal is extremely reluctant to move.
“For the most part, we are always above 90 percent of cattle that have a normal mobility score of one but there is variation and what can we do to see what causes that variation?” said Hagenmaier.
Trained evaluators randomly sampled cattle at participating plants.
Results indicated abnormal mobility increases with longer travel and longer waiting time at the plants. Other factors like weather, sex of cattle and feeding programs were also analyzed.
Knowing the possible risks and causes can help beef producers curb lameness before it becomes serious. The research continues.
“In the summer months, we tend to see a general increase in impaired cattle mobility,” he said.
During the drought of 2012-13 in the United States, more cattle went on feed earlier and received high carbohydrate diets that may have led to subacute laminitis.
The trend toward feeding cattle to a heavier weight also affects their ability to walk.
The effect of feeding Optaflexx (ractopamine) on the mobility and physiology of fed cattle is also being evaluated.
Other factors that contribute to abnormal mobility could be the way cattle are moved from feedlot pens to shipping areas.
Improved truck design may be required and animals that are unfit to transport should be identified sooner.