Lameness lesions

Lameness is a perennial challenge on many dairy farms, and with a typical case costing £180, it is important from both an economic, and welfare perspective. The economic costs of a lameness case are attributed to a reduced milk yield, cost of treatment and an increase in the risk of culling but cows that are lame are also more likely to suffer from other issues such as poor fertility and mastitis.

Whilst there are many different lesions known to cause lameness, the claw horn lesions – sole ulcers and white line disease – are among the most common, and the most costly, because of their long duration and high risk of complications such as joint infection and progression to more severe, non-healing lesion.

Risk Factors for Claw Horn Lesions

There are many on-farm factors that will contribute to the risk of lameness, but recently there has been a lot of interest in the influence of body condition (BCS). Research in a number of institutions has reinforced this link and we now know that a BCS of less than 2.5 is associated with increased likelihood of sole ulcers and white line disease. Furthermore, if a cow with a lower BCS goes lame in the 2 months after calving, she will be more likely to have further lameness issues in the future – especially if the initial problem is not identified and rectified quickly.

Sole Ulcers

These are caused by damage to the soft, horn producing tissue under the foot (the corium) and the influence of the BCS factors mentioned above is manifested as a loss of fat in the digital cushion which provides padding below this layer and means the full force of the cows weight is pressing on this delicate tissue. This effect is exacerbated by anything which exposes the foot to increased forces such as long standing times, uneven surfaces and poor cow comfort. Hoof horn grows at a rate of around 5mm per month; the sole of the hoof is approximately 10-15mm thick thus there can often be up to 3 months between the trauma event causing the bruising, and the onset of clinical lameness.

White line disease

White line disease occurs when foreign material penetrates the junction between the horn of the sole, and the hoof wall, and can then set up an infection within the hoof capsule. Foreign bodies can also penetrate through the sole and introduce infection leading to abscess formation. The incidence of white line disease can be as high as 35% on some farms. If the damage tracks up to the corium (the sensitive part of the foot) then this can alter the development of the hoof horn from the coronary band.

Prevention of sole ulcers and white line disease can be looked at together, as a lot of the risk factors are pertinent to both. Key things to focus on are as follows:

  • Walking surfaces, for example concrete in passages as well as cow tracks and gateways. Walking long distances to pasture can also cause increased wear, leading to thin soles and increase in the risk of white line disease or sole puncture.
  • Minimise standing time with good cow flow, efficient milking, and plenty of access to feed and water.
  • Cow comfort is also key, so review cubicle comfort each year to ensure your cows have a good place to lie down whenever they feel the need.
  • Any twisting, for example a tight turn out of the parlour, puts pressure on the white line. Placing rubber mats in areas such as this, or in other pinch points can improve cow flow and reduce lameness.

Analysing trimming records allows you and your vet to see which lesions are most common on your farm and focus prevention on the correct area. Mobility scoring is a really useful tool to monitor the overall herd lameness levels and allows cows to be picked out for treatment before they become severely lame, when the chance of a cure is much reduced.

The Westpoint mobility team are able to provide solutions for any size of farm with our team of Category 1 foot trimmers, our trained mobility scorers and a group of qualified AHDB mobility mentors so please call today to find out how we can help you.

Georgie LethbridgeGeorgie Lethbridge BVetMed MRCVS