Herd Lameness and Laminitis

Phil Rogers MRCVS <philrogers@eircom.net>
Grange Research Centre, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland

Herd lameness | Major causes | Other causes | Remedies

Herd lameness has multifactorial aetiology. Causal factors include:

1 Prolonged standing and uncomfortable lying areas indoors Even in high yielding herds, fed high levels of rapidly fermentable concentrates twice/d, laminitis and sole ulcers were rare before the advent of SLATS or CUBICLES. Today, laminitis is the main cause of lameness in cattle. Risk increases when cattle stand with their hind legs in the passage-way, or stand for long times on wet or pitted concrete. Calved heifers are especially at risk. The outer claw of the hind limb is most frequently affected in lameness.
2 Wet conditions underfoot Wet horn = soft horn. Poorly drained soil and wet, dirty underfoot conditions indoors soften hoof horn.
3 Large herd size Lameness incidence increases as herd size increases from >50, to 100-199, to >199 cows. Individual observation and care of cows is more difficult in large than in small herds. Cows in large herds usually must walk further between feeding and milking areas.
4 Foot or joint trauma Foot trauma increases with: uncomfortable cubicles; poor bedding; narrow passageways force more submissive (retreating) behaviour in heifers; prolonged standing on concrete (especially wet, new or pitted); poorly maintained, uneven track or road surfaces; flints and stones underfoot; sharp bottlenecks and turns en route from the feeding area to the parlour; impatient herdsman who rushes cows along etc; irregular or incompetent foot trimming
5 Laminitis, acidosis, fat cow syndrome, toxicosis, metritis Excessive intake of rapidly fermentable carbohydrates; toxic amines (histamine etc) in feed; concentrate/roughage DM ratios >59/41; laminitis often follows fatty liver syndrome, metritis, mastitis and intoxications.
6 Foot infections Wet and dirty conditions underfoot and failure to use good footbaths / foot sprays increase the risk of Mortellaro, foul in the foot and foot-rot; terminal dry gangrene in Salmonellosis etc
7 Mineral-vitamin deficiency In spite of popular belief, deficiency of Ca, P, Cu, Se, Zn, Mn, vitamin D3 and E etc is NOT a common cause of herd lameness
8 Excess crude protein (>20% DM) combined with low fibre intake CP levels of about 16% in total dietary DM is adequate for high milk yield. Many Irish pastures, which pose no risk of lameness to cows, contain high to very high protein levels (19-31% in the DM). Absence of hay, straw, beetpulp or dried citrus pulp reduces fibre intake. If fibre intake is adequate and starch intake per feed is not excessive, high protein intakes per se need not cause lameness.
9 Chronic poisoning Ergot, Se, fluoride etc
10 Genetics Poor conformation (of stifle, hock and feet); familial laminitis; inherited arthritis



Identify and correct the causes, as below. Use veterinary treatment in severe cases.

1 Cubicles? A paper at the 1993 IVA Congress stated: "The best way to get rid of laminitis-related lameness is to get rid of cubicles!". One need not go to such lengths if the following are observed: (a) have enough cubicles (preferably one/cow) (b) have good cubicle design for size of cow or heifer (proper length (2.1-2.3 m), width (1.1-1.2 m), slope (10 cm) and step (<20 cm); remove low rails at the head and at the hock area; avoid draughts, water leaks in individual cubicles; have escape route for cows at both ends of the cubicle passage) (c) use comfortable bedding or top quality mats.
2 Good underfoot conditions Ensure comfort in lying areas (a high rate of cubicle occupancy reduces the incidence of laminitis). Keep feet as dry as possible (drain yards and fields well; remove slurry frequently from concrete; site water troughs and gates in well-drained areas). Optimise evenness of ground surface (remove or bury sharp stones/flints, improve the surface of cow-tracks, gateways, roadways and their edges; repair corroded concrete). Remove all bottle-necks and sharp turns along the route from feeding area to milking parlour. Do not rush cows in and out for milking.
3 Routine foot care Liverpool workers found that abnormal foot shape is an important risk factor. Correct foot care (hoof paring, trimming), especially of the outer hind claw, takes excessive weight off that claw, restores proper shape and makes it easier for lame cows to walk. Incorrect trimming increases the risk of lameness. In severe cases, it may be necessary to fit special shoes to the inner claws to take weight off the outer claws. The Farm Relief Service provides skilled foot care. Herds with lameness problems should use their services routinely, especially before, or 2-4 weeks after calving. Herds with severe lameness problems should have routine hoof-care twice/year.
4 Routine antimicrobial footsprays or footbaths If infectious agents are present (Mortellaro etc), one must treat the infection. Antibacterial footsprays are preferable to footbaths. Foot-baths (5% formalin or 2.5-5.0% Cu and Zn sulphate solution), used at least 4 times/week, may help to harden hoof horn but clinical effects of foot-baths may be poor and all footbath waste should be pumped to the slurry tank.

NB: Formalin and Cu sulphate are very toxic to aquatic organisms if they get into surface water and streams. Topical application of a good antimicrobial spray is much safer for the environment.

5 Balanced nutrition, fibre & protein Avoid "steaming-up" before calving; take at least 10 days to reach full concentrate input after calving. If cows are fed >7 kg/d of dairy ration with high levels of rapidly fermentable concentrate, inclusion of 20-30% pulp (beet of citrus) and/or feeding three times/d instead of twice may help. Provision of 1-2 kg hay and/or 200-300 g Na bicarbonate/cow/d in the concentrate feed may help.
6 Eliminate toxic factors Be aware of the danger of feed contamination with ergot, fluoride, selenium etc. Withdraw toxic feed or water immediately and replace them with a safe feed or water.
7 Cull? Cull non -responsive cases, or those with infertility or low yield due to lameness. If a genetic link is suspected, consider culling of affected breeding stock, even mild cases.
8 Mineral supplements? If the levels of P, Zn, Cu, Se, Co & I are low on blood test, it is advisable to increase the use of mineral supplements high in those elements pre- and post-calving. A quick way to check if mineral deficiency is involved is to give a good mineral supplement high in P and trace-elements. If the animals do not show a good response within 3-6 weeks, the cause is unlikely to be due to mineral deficiency. Extra minerals are unlikely to improve lameness in marginal deficiency.

Oral chelated Zn is unlikely to improve herd lameness unless (a) Zn deficiency (very rare in Irish herds) is present and (b) the main factors (wet feet, poor underfoot conditions, prolonged standing etc) are corrected also.

Oral I (40 mg I/cow/d, as 50 mg EDDI (organic I)) has been used in USA to prevent foot-rot in cows. [EDDI is not allowed for oral supplementation in the EU. Instead, we use calcium iodate, or potassium iodide as oral supplements. We advise ROUTINE oral supplementation with 60 mg I/cow/d for 5 months (i.e. 1 month before calving, plus 4 months after calving)]