Understanding lameness in the dairy cow

By Knott, L. and Tarlton, J. F. and WEBSTER, A.J.F., Cattle Practice, 2005
Research Paper Web Link / URL:
Effective control of a disease condition requires, at best, knowledge of the primary cause or, failing that, the ability to recognise and assess the importance of its risk factors. Lameness in dairy cattle is dominated by two conditions, infectious digital dermatitis (DD) and claw horn disruption (CHD). The causative agents and environmental risk factors for DD are sufficiently well known to permit effective control. There are two categories of risk factor for CHD. The first includes inadequate housing and foot care, which increase the external stresses on the foot. The second involves systemic factors that compromise the ability of the foot to withstand the stresses. This paper describes an experiment designed to explore the relative importance of three potential hazards within the second, systemic category as measured by changes in the biomechanics and biochemistry of the suspensory connective tissue in the foot. The hazards were housing, feeding and parturition/lactation per se. The structural integrity of the connective tissue was most severely compromised by housing in cubicles. This effect was exacerbated by parturition/lactation but not significantly affected by feeding a dairy production ration. There was no evidence of laminitis. These results indicate that physiological changes inevitably associated with parturition and the onset of lactation compromise the integrity of the foot, but these effects are of short duration. Thus it is possible to prevent clinical lameness due to CHD through a strategy designed to minimise external stresses to the foot in the periparturient period only.
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