Lameness major issue in feedlots, says vet

Foot rot is the most predominant problem but a drier spring in many areas reduced the number of cases

Lameness in cattle has replaced respiratory disease as the predominant animal health issue in feedlot operations.

Dr. Eugene Janzen, a professor of animal health at the University of Calgary’s veterinary medicine faculty, said a good turnout at recent meetings showed producer interest in lameness and how to treat it.

“We were noticing that very little appears in the scientific literature about beef cattle lameness issues,” Janzen said May 4 at a Lethbridge meeting organized by the U of C, University of Saskatchewan and the Western Canadian Association of Bovine Practitioners.

Janzen said much of the available research on bovine lameness involves dairy cattle, so more information is needed on issues specific to feedlots and beef animals.

He asked three feedlot operators about their experience with lameness.

Tyler Daniels, Richard McCord and Mike Sears each said the problem is significant in their operations, although this year’s mild winter and dry spring have reduced the usual number of cases.

They said foot rot, digital dermatitis (hairy heel), toe-tip necrosis, injury and arthritis are the most common causes of lameness with foot rot predominant.

Actions taken will vary by feedlot, but animals identified as lame are usually removed from the pen and put into the “hospital” pen.

Treatment depends on the identified cause of the lameness, but animals that don’t respond to treatment and reach the point where they cannot rise to eat and drink are usually euthanized.

McCord said animals with digital dermatitis respond well to treatment if it is done soon after the problem is identified.

He avoids pulling arthritic animals from the pen because the extra movement and handling in the chute can worsen the degree of lameness. Arthritic animals are monitored and removed only if symptoms worsen.

The three feedlot operators said treatment depends on the size of the animal and how close it is to finishing.

The withdrawal time for antibiotic treatment can’t be accommodated if a steer or heifer is due to be shipped for slaughter soon and is more than 1,000 pounds. In that case, the animal will be euthanized.

Animals lighter than 950 pounds may be offered to a local vendor or individual for slaughter without treatment.

Identification of the exact problem can be tricky.

“We’re only as good as our pen riders, I guess,” said Daniels.

Janzen asked the feedlot operators about treatment if large numbers of cattle have foot problems.

Sears said he treats the entire pen or provides medicated feed if 10 percent of cattle in a single pen are lame.

“I would prefer the feed medication, truthfully. It’s easier and the results are better,” he said.

Daniels said Holstein cattle tend to have more injury-related lameness than beef animals because they do more riding and bumping. As well, he said dairy animals in a feedlot have more cases of hairy heel.

None of the panelists said they noticed a relationship between lameness and feed.

Daniels said chute-side databases help identify problems and track treatment, and many feedlots work more closely with veterinarians than they did 10 years ago, which makes treatment more successful.

Dr. Murray Jelinski asked what research feedlot operators would like to see.

“I’d like to see you spend money on the rancher … and looking after problems at that level, before they get to the feedlot … making sure the herds are on vaccine programs,” said Daniels.

“It helps to access cattle directly, but they are naive cattle. When they hit the feed yard, they’re like dynamite.”

The operators agreed that maintaining pen condition and minimizing stress and handling are the best ways to reduce lameness problems.

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