Publications

Hoof lesions in partly housed pasture-based dairy cows

Browne, N.; Hudson, C.D.; Crossley, R.E.; Sugrue, K.; Huxley, J.N.; Conneely, M.

Summary

Lameness is a symptom of a painful disorder affecting the limbs, which impacts dairy cow welfare and productivity. Lameness is primarily caused by hoof lesions. The prevalence of different lesion types can differ depending on environmental conditions and farm management practices. The aims of this observational study were to establish the cow-level and herd-level lesion prevalence during both housing and grazing periods in a partly housed, pasture-based system, establish the prevalence of lesions always associated with pain (“alarm” lesion), identify the lesions associated with a higher lameness score, determine relationships between lesions, and identify risk factors for digital dermatitis. On 98 farms during the grazing period and on 74 of the same farms during the housing period, every cow was lameness scored (0–3 lameness scoring scale), and the hind hooves of lame cows (score 2 and 3) were examined (maximum 20 cows per visit) and the prevalence of each lesion type recorded. To gather data on potential predictors for the risk factor analysis, a questionnaire with the farmer was conducted on lameness management practices and infrastructure measurements were taken at each visit. Cow-level data were also collected (e.g., parity, breed, milk yield, and so on). Noninfectious lesions were found to be more prevalent than infectious lesions in this system type. The most prevalent lesion types during both grazing and housing periods were white line separation, sole hemorrhages and overgrown claws; all remaining lesions had a cow-level prevalence of less than 15%. The cow-level prevalence of alarm lesions was 19% during the grazing period and 25% during the housing period; the most prevalent alarm lesion was sole ulcers during both periods. We found significantly more foreign bodies within the hoof sole (grazing = 14%, housing = 7%) and overgrown claws (grazing = 71%, housing = 55%) during the grazing period compared with the housing period. Cows with foul of the foot, sole ulcer, white line abscess, toe necrosis or an amputated claw had higher odds of being more severely lame, compared with mildly lame. The strongest correlation between lesions were between toe necrosis and digital dermatitis (r = 0.40), overgrown claws and corkscrew claws (r = 0.33), and interdigital hyperplasia and digital dermatitis (r = 0.31) at herd level. At the cow level, the strongest correlation was between overgrown claws and corkscrew claws (r = 0.27), and digital dermatitis and heel erosion (r = 0.22). The farmers' perception of the presence of digital dermatitis (and lameness) was significantly correlated with the actual presence of digital dermatitis recorded. Additional risk factors for the presence of digital dermatitis were cow track and verge width near the collecting yard, and stone presence on the cow tracks. Results from this study help further our understanding of the causes of lameness in partly housed, pasture-based dairy cows, and can be used to guide prevention and treatment protocols.