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The latest on lameness

A summary of discussions at the Cattle Lameness Academy Seminar held on 28 March

06 May 2018, at 7:30pm

The second Cattle Lameness Academy Seminar involved veterinary surgeons, foot trimmers, farmers, researchers and anyone working within the agricultural industry with an interest in lameness. Developed by RAFT Solutions, the gathering was hosted by Synergy Farm Health and supported by Zinpro, CowAlert, Boehringer Ingelheim and Bayer. 

Jon Reader (Synergy) highlighted the changes that have taken place since the first seminar in 2016, including a growing evidence base for day-to-day activities together with new techniques and protocols. A presentation was made to Professor Jon Huxley, whose energy and enthusiasm has driven the cooperation and developments that have brought the lameness industry together and improved the mobility of dairy cows. He will shortly be moving from the University of Nottingham to New Zealand.

The incidence of lameness in UK herds

Dick Sibley (Westridge Vet Practice) chairs the Dairy Cattle Mobility Group and, with reference to understanding also developed from the Healthy Feet Project, the speaker emphasised that the current state of lameness in UK dairy herds is too high. Lameness management has to move on to a “predict and prevent” strategy and leave behind the idea of “test and treat”. Veterinary surgeons are a part of the solution and they need to benefit from successful lameness management and not derive income from lameness failures. Twenty-five years ago, it was clarified that there was a 7:1 payback to the farmer from fertility management, but it is not so clear with lameness. 

The speaker calculated that with the current situation in the UK, 25 percent of milk purchased has come from a cow in pain. Some 18,000 adult cows are culled each year for bTB and over 70,000 for lameness, but there is a big difference between farmer awareness and the actual lameness incidence in many herds. A tribute was paid to the work financed by the Tubney Trust and their support for improved animal welfare.

The clinical situation has changed from white line disease and sole ulcers 20 years ago to digital dermatitis and sole ulcers now. But lameness is not inevitable and some of the most successful and intensive dairy herds have little lameness. The future lies in becoming more efficient at what we do, with farm systems to suit the cows rather than the farmer and the farm buildings. The regulation of foot trimmers is also an important development for lameness management. 

Treating cows early 

Reuben Newsome (Synergy) has contributed to the understanding of the pathogenesis of claw horn lesions. He emphasises that the challenge is to treat cows early and stop them becoming chronically lame. It takes approximately two months from the initial interruption of keratogenesis to the formation of a sole ulcer. Lameness prevention relies on managing the forces applied to the foot, where factors such as standing times, walking surfaces and social competition become important, and the transfer of forces through the foot, which relies on foot shape and cow factors that influence the structure and function of the foot.

The speaker highlighted that current research is ongoing to understand the role of insulin and the indication that high levels lead to weaker suspensory ligaments, combined with the changes around calving occurring with the laminae and a greater risk of sole damage. Susceptibility to trauma is influenced by metabolic issues and disruption to horn development. Behind the current recommendations for changes in cow lameness management lies a considerable depth of science. 

Laura Randall (University of Nottingham) highlighted that the risk factors for claw horn lesions are not simple. As well as increased tissue laxity, a low body condition score and a history of lameness are key indicators. Repeat cases of lameness are a major issue and understanding why these cases occur is essential. 

The management of young stock to prevent the initial case will stop the incidence of broken cows that cannot be fixed. Sara Pedersen (Farm Dynamics) is investigating current foot trimming practices. Although the majority of farmers undertake routine trimming at or around drying off, the commonly asked questions concern the optimal time and method for foot trimming. There is great variation in the targeted measurements for trimming, including foot angle, weight balance between claws, claw modelling and the techniques used. It is advised to get the method right and then move on to when might be the best time to trim.

Jonathan Huxtable (Zinpro) reported on the feeding of trace minerals and a reduction in new cases of digital dermatitis. It is established that the addition of trace minerals, including manganese, copper and zinc, can reduce inflammation in the hoof with improvements in skin condition and subsequent prevention of skin damage and infection. A direct association between trace minerals and lameness offers the possibility of decreasing the incidence and reducing the severity of claw lesions. Ongoing work indicates that there should be a focus on whole life cycle needs, from calf to calving. 

Working as a team 

A team approach to lameness involving the herd manager and farm staff, the veterinary surgeon and the vet tech was discussed by Dave Phillips (Synergy Farm Health Vet Tech). It is important to recognise the limitations of the skillset available on the farm. The biggest single factor in managing lameness in a dairy herd is the desire for the herd manager to make a difference. Risk advice for lameness is the responsibility of the veterinary surgeon together with data analysis, on-farm interpretation and training. Hoof trimming and mobility scoring are carried out by the vet tech with problem cows highlighted for veterinary attention.

A case study of a 160-cow herd, presented by Gareth Foden (Cattle Lameness Academy), highlighted the difficulties for veterinary surgeons to achieve good results with problem herds. The point was made that the veterinary surgeon can only work with the cows presented to him and in the study herd, only 40 percent of the herd were seen in the year. The incidence of category 2 and 3 cows was very high (38 percent) and 43 percent of the herd were recorded with digital dermatitis. Due to poor cubicle design, the lying times per cow were very low. It was emphasised that a veterinary practice needs to get to farmers who do not recognise lameness as an issue, if the overall incidence of lameness within the practice clients’ herds is to be reduced. 

Tom Wright (Lambert, Leonard and May) explained that his Cheshire practice has not employed foot trimmers within the practice and the vet techs concentrate on mobility scoring, which is a way to alert farmers to underlying lameness. However, the information transfer between the vets and the independent foot trimmers is “very poor”. The best client herds have a 5 percent lameness prevalence but, although 25 percent is the target, the norm is 30 percent. An aim for the future is to develop better information sharing. The requirement for veterinary involvement in lameness management by milk buyers is potentially a positive step forward.

An independent foot trimmer from Devon, Ben Westaway (Tamar Hoof Care) detailed the hoof supervisor programme used to email reports to the farmer. A herd inspection is carried out every four months including pre-fresh heifers. The farmer contacts the vet for immediate action with score 3 cows (red), attention as soon as possible for score 2 cows (amber) and no action for score 1 and 0 cows (green). The speaker emphasised that to maintain a lameness management programme takes hard work and consistency.

Mobility scoring 

A register of mobility scorers (RoMS) is encouraging the widespread use of standardised, independent mobility scoring conducted by trained and accredited scorers on dairy farms. Jo Speed (RoMS registrar) explained that supporting materials are available, including video clips of mobility scoring. The relationship between lying times and lameness was discussed by Nick Bell (Bos International) with sole ulcer being referred to as “standing up disease”. 

Freshly calved cows have lower lying down times and there is considerable individual variation within herds. The optimal range is 10 to 14.5 hours with 75 percent of the cows within a 12 to 14.5 hours target. Grazed herds have lower lying times than housed cows. Studies with automated recording have roughly equivalent results to experienced mobility scorers in detecting lameness. The threshold can be adjusted for sensitivity but some cows, particularly with digital dermatitis, were missed. Work is ongoing with IceRobotics to also develop systems to monitor cows after treatment and to detect specific lesions that trigger compromised lying times.

Genetic selection 

George Oikonomou (University of Liverpool) encouraged the delegates to be aware of developments in genetic selection. Genomic evaluations are expected to be more accurate in the future and available from UK herds. The heritability for sole ulcer (at 30 percent), interdigital hyperplasia (at 35 percent) and digital dermatitis (at 22 percent) is similar to the heritability for milk yield. A major limitation is that many farms do not score lesions accurately.

A study of researcher-detected compared to farmerdetected lesions showed results for digital dermatitis (39 percent and 5.1 percent), sole ulcer (11.5 percent and 12 percent), white line disease (18.8 percent and 9.3 percent) and interdigital hyperplasia (16.5 percent and 5.4 percent). For genetic selection, the source of information is important and for the long-term benefit of the industry, the genomics work will be able to influence lameness incidence. 

In summarising the day, Jon Reader thanked everyone for their participation and asked that foot trimmers telephone the vet, that the vet phones a foot trimmer and that farmers make sure that their vet and foot trimmer are talking.

Following a 16-year apprenticeship with Beecham, Richard established a project management and development consultancy and writes regular contributions for the veterinary press.

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