Cattle Limp = Cash Lost

Cattle Limp = Cash Lost
Photo by Alexander Grey / Unsplash

The high-points:

  • The effects of lameness on the wellbeing of the hurt animal and the bottom line of the feedlot are both concerns worth investigating.
  • Observed an increase in the proportion of animals with lameness between current and old studies.
  • Common risk factors were: increased body weight, older animals, increased pen density, and decreased forage in the diet.

What you need to know: Cattle lameness is the topic of a new research paper, one culprit being hoof infections, which we touched on in a previous R2R. However, there is far more to lameness than hooves. It can include damage to the joints, ligaments, infections, etc. -- the list is really endless. Lameness is a good sign that there is something wrong with the animal and that it is in pain. The animal is not able to get around as easily, which limits feed and water intake. Additionally, the injured animals are found lying more often, increasing their risk of respiratory infections. Both dairies and feedlots have an elevated prevalence of lameness.

Due to the costs associated with and welfare concerns of cattle lameness in feedlots, researchers wanted to determine how often they occur and what the causes are. These researchers observed feedlot cattle diagnosed as lame by pen-riders at two 10,000 head feedlots in Alberta, CA, over two years.

These researchers found a considerable variation in the prevalence of lameness depending on the year. For example, of the treated calves at feedlot A, 35% of treatments were due to lameness during year one but only 19.7% during year two. And feedlot B was the opposite, with 80.3% during year one and 64.9% for year two.

The authors note that a study in 1993 stated the average rate of lameness was 16%, saying, "Possible reasons for the substantial increase in the proportion of lameness observed between the older and more recent studies may be explained by steadily increasing carcass weights over the last 20 years."

As for the source of the lameness: of the 4395 calves diagnosed, the most common cause was foot-rot, followed closely by digital dermatitis (see this previous post), which together make up a majority of the diagnosis. Common risk factors were: increased body weight, older animals, increased pen density, and decreased forage in the diet.

The increased body weight puts more strain on the hooves and the joints. As for older animals, the authors state, "...yearlings are typically housed on pasture for a longer period of time before being placed into the feedlot (compared with calves) and are generally more reactive as they are usually handled infrequently."

The more animals in each pen, the greater the risk of an animal becoming lame, possibly due to less area for lying ability which increases time standing and the risk of hoof issues. Finally, the rate of lameness increased as the forage inclusion decreased, but laminitis was low in prevalence, so the connection was not able to be established.

Industry application: Many sources of lameness in feedlot cattle can be controlled, and the benefit to the feedlot is high. Possible benefits include decreased doctoring costs, increased feed consumption, increased average daily gain, and more animals making it to slaughter. Strategies that can be implemented, as explained by the researchers, "... increasing the percentage of forage in the diet, maintaining clean, dry pens by routinely scraping or bedding, reducing slaughter weights, and reducing handling frequency may help to reduce the incidence of lameness in feedlot cattle."

Read more about it: A prospective longitudinal study of risk factors associated with cattle lameness in southern Alberta feedlots.

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