Lameness and foot problems are some of the most common ailments we are called out to see. There are many contributing factors, but these can be grouped into three categories
Animal factors – these are individual animal issues or breed tendencies. They are usually problems that will occur no matter where the animal is kept, and include temperament, conformation, body condition and pregnancy.
Environmental factors are those that are contributed to by the local prevailing conditions. These include weather, ground (composition), and climate (heat/cold).
Management factors are those that we play a part in. They include quality of walkways, paddock management, stocking density, feeding, movement, handling and yards and trucking.
As you can imagine certain factors can blur the lines between categories. It is usually a combination of animal issue + environmental issue + management strategy that results in lameness or foot problems. ie. using waterlogged paddocks leads to soft feet and more potential for infection and abnormal growth. Here a combination of weather and poor management leads to foot problems. Similarly feeding dairy cows or feedlotted beef cattle a too rich concentrate diet may cause laminitis – Management is the key here.
In summer, hard rocky ground may lead to bruising or abscesses in the soles. Poor fences and debris can lead to debilitating or even fatal penetrating injury.
Foot problems have a knock on effect on production that may not be immediately obvious or even considered. In a dairy cow, foot problems cause reduced DMI, reduced milk yield, poor fertility (also potentially poor heat detection) and even dumping of milk if the animal needs veterinary treatment. In a beef unit, fattening animals will have reduced live weight gains, cows fertility and condition suffers, and bulls cannot serve as many cows!
Here are a few key pointers to avoid trouble with feet:
- Make sure any laneways and pastures used are well drained – Laneways should be nicely crowned and have a good base so they do not deteriorate into bogs when the rain starts
- Fence off poached, rocky or waterlogged paddock areas.
- In intensive production (dairy or feedlotted beef) a nutritionally balanced diet containing sufficient trace elements/minerals for healthy hoof production is essential
- Hoof trimming… Hooves grow – even an animal with the best conformation will have overgrown feet if they are not wearing down. Trimming the herd annually can save a fortune down the track
- Do not breed from animals with poor feet – this includes bulls!
- Treat lame cows and bulls early… Many joint infections and cases where cellulitis has spread to the lower leg can be avoided by prompt treatment. Abscesses need draining and antibiotics before those bugs can spread.