Farming Tips and Advice – Videos and Blogs from Tommy the Vet

Lameness at housing!

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I always seem to get a bit more lameness in the winter time when cows are housed”.

A very common problem for this time of year, is the battle against lameness in the house. There are two distinct challenges or types of lameness. There is of course an increased risk of infectious lameness (no surprises there), but also mechanical or pressure lameness often because in some cases of increased standing times.
I’m not going to quote the cost of lameness but its expensive. It’s expensive on farm profit but it pays a heavy tole on cow welfare and performance. A lot of our housed cows in Ireland are being put dry to prepare for the next lactation around housing. This preparation is key to help a smooth calving down process and beginning of the hardest ‘metabolic’ time in the lactation the first 30 days.
No surprises that if these transition cows are in pain there will be problems. Decreased appetites and feed intakes is a huge issue. Pain limits performance decreases production and is a big animal welfare issue.
It now makes a lot of sense to focus on preventing lameness and particularly reducing the risks that expose housed cows to lameness.

Infectious lameness

The two big offenders here are DD (Mortellaro’s) and fouls. Both are caused by bacteria that affect the feet. These bacteria generally reside in faeces and also in foot lesions (found at the back of the claws or in between the feet).
Naturally in a housed environment there is much more sh!t, this means more infection pressure (amount of the bacteria). With DD in particular these spiral shaped bacteria burrow deep into tissue causing severe swelling, pain and lameness.
Often when these lesions are well established treatment is more difficult and also they potentially are a big source (lesions) of spread within the herd.
Housing puts animal in close proximity with more sh1t, this ticks the box for these spircohaetes (bacteria that cause DD) to spread and cause infections.
It really is worth making sure scrapers are working well, areas of congregation are brushed down.
Foot bathing also can help prevent build up of infection. This can often be a challenge with dry cows, as most foot baths are set up when leaving the milking parlour.
Choose the correct volume of footbath, correct dilution, and chose an agent based on challenge your herd is exposed to.
The big thing to get right then is positioning the footbath for optimum cow flow! Especially with heavily in calf cows, they must move through at their own pace comfortably. This requires a bit of planning!!

Finally frequency? Once a month, once a week or 5 times a week? The more frequently the cows feet pass through a well designed foot bath  with an appropriate solution the better the results?

Certainly with infectious lameness problems this means 4/5 times weekly!

It can really pay to talk with your vet about treatment plans for infectious lameness. Like any infectious disease early intervention has by far the best cure rates.

So where do I start with an infectious lameness problem?
1. Make a diagnosis, lift lame feet or during milking look for lesions and cause?
2. Work out treatment plans with your vet based on a severity scale (number of lesions and lesion type)!
3. Look at bottlenecks in the environment where cows could be passing through wet mucky areas.
4. Consider a regular foot bathing program in housed cows to prevent new infections and spread.
5. Position foot bath and design for optimum cow flow? I quiet like the large concrete foot baths that can be moved around!

Never accept infectious lameness as part of the course of housing.
Furthermore if you don’t have infectious lameness issues be ultra cautious of not buying it (bringing) into your herd. I’d always suggest washing feet of bought in cattle and checking from a safe distance!

Pressure lameness

Again the housed cow has many factors or risks to deal with particularly in relation to time of lactation. In Ireland our cows spend 3-4 months housed (often while dry and at calving time)? In many countries cows spend their entire lactation housed. If you ever want a great lecture on giving the housed cow what she wants look up Gordy Jones on Hoardsdairyman webinars on YouTube! He talks about the 3 biggest needs of the cow indoors A,B,C. AIR BUNK AND COMFORT. If you have fresh clean air, good feed space (with plenty available feed at all times ‘the bunk’) and comfortable beds to optimize lying times. Then you tick most of the boxes for her needs.
Maybe we think its less important in our shorter housed period?
I think a lot of our cows are going through the big transition (dry to calving) indoors, so we have to pay lots of attention to ABC.
Firstly air? Our winters are milder and our cows actually tolerate cold quiet well. The ambient temperature for a cow is 4 degrees Celsius. My opinion is unless severe gales and draughts cows tolerate quiet open airy sheds?
Topless cubicles begins another debate? Ive worked on many farms with these, my opinion is once you have the right cow type combined with milder winters they can work well.
Once each cow has space to lie down in a comfortable bed, she generally will be happy? How do you know if it’s comfortable tommy? Standing waiting cows will tell you a lot?

A cow likes to spend 14 hours a day lying down and 6-7 hours feeding, 2 hours when milking (I generally add 1-2 hours to lying time when dry) 1-2 hours socializing.
Generally these are good rules to stick to for 24 hours. First thing I look at when walking into a cow shed is numbers of cows at various activities?

If I see lots of standing waiting cows (neither feeding or lying) I ask why?

Usual answers is not enough cubicle spaces or perhaps cubicle dimension size might be a little off. No feed in front of cows? Water drinkers in short supply and in awkward places often guarded by dominant cows? The cubicle beds how comfortable are they? What size are the cubicles? What size are your biggest cows?

Smart Alec’s will say ‘they just stood up to have a look at you”. Fundamentally these cows are giving us signals though. How we look at, use and interpret these is up to each one of us individually?

One thing for sure excessive standing time on concrete will soon show the tell tale signs on feet. Particularly sole ulcers and white line disease.
Next thing to look at is surface serrated vs smooth. Having rubber down at areas of turning (heavy cow flow) can really help. Smooth greasy (sh1tty) surfaces are like ice rinks. Cows are not designed for ice skating in my opinion. Again watching cows moving can tell a lot? Slow movement without feet slipping is good. Serrated concrete works well once serrations aren’t excessively deep or jagged? Focusing on particular areas where cow traffic is heavy and cows are turning!

The main thing is to look at lameness?

How do I know if I actually have a lameness problem?

Firstly very few farms with cows indoors can have 0% lameness!
Look at the healthy cows with no swellings and weight baring evenly when walking.
Then look at the lame cows?
Why are these cows lame?
Is it mechanical lameness (sole ulcers, white line disease)
Look at the environment what are the bottlenecks that could be increasing the risks?
Have you standing waiting cows?
Have you swollen hocks, abrasions on legs, shiny metal from excessive cow pressure?

Other factors that can affect mechanical lameness are BCS and sometimes diets. A thin cow will have a very thin fat cushion protecting the sole of her foot. However thin cows at housing have a myriad of problems. So this is why BCS is so fundamental to focus on first for so many other reasons other than lameness.
Prolonged feeding of low fibre, energy rich concentrate or starchy diets can also lead to lameness problems. This can lead to softer feet, bruising and laminitis from the affects of ruminal acidosis. This is an issue we see less of in this country but everything should be on our radars. This typically is an issue in more high input, higher yielding cows. Although 3 years ago I did see an issue with acidosis in cows on grass silage. It was extremely good quality with a very short chop length. Problem resolved when we added straw for a couple of days.
So key messages?

What % of cows are lame?
What is your % lame target for your herd?
What is causing the lameness infection vs mechanical
What can I do about it?
Simple steps, what can have short term impacts and what long term changes can I make?
Always spend an extra bit of time looking at the really healthy cows, there your benchmark it makes it easier spot the sick ones then.
Your vet, hoof technician can really help you, talk to them.
Treat cows early with infections, intervene in mechanical lameness early.
Hoof trimming courses are a fantastic skill to add to your repertoire!

In an ever evolving agricultural climate a more discerning consumer will shape the way we farm. Lameness incidence is probably the most measurable animal welfare indicator on our farms over time!

The truth is we will never eliminate lame cows completely but we sure can make them a tiny acceptable minority in our herds.

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