Looking to the future at the Cattle Lameness Academy Seminar 2023 - Veterinary Practice
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Looking to the future at the Cattle Lameness Academy Seminar 2023

The latest updates on lameness in cattle, from claw horn lesions and innovations in the field to new challenges on the horizon, were all explored at the Cattle Lameness Academy Seminar 2023

For those who are used to cattle lameness as a veterinary topic, it may come as a surprise that the latest appreciation of the disease is shared and presented equally by hoof trimmers and veterinary surgeons – the Cattle Lameness Academy (CLA) collects together the very best of knowledge.

Some may recall that a few years ago, a photographic presentation of surgery on a hoof led to a delegate fainting and being carried from the room. As Nick Bell showed how knowledge, skill and patience are brought together to turn a bloody mess into a viable limb, people were leaning forward because they were either anxious to learn the techniques or anxious to take preventive measures to ensure problem chronic cows are an infrequent event.

The Cattle Lameness Seminar 2023

At this year’s seminar, Dave Phillips (Vet Tech) gave the opening words and introduced the first speakers, and Jon Reader had the last word with a summary and thanks. In between the sessions, there were 10 presentations with discussions continuing during the breaks alongside the involvement of commercial and other stands. Outside, displays of foot trimming equipment dominated the exhibition area, and the humble crush has clearly moved into an area of high tech.

Understanding infectious diseases

The CLA seminar opening speaker was Professor Nigel Cook, who was initially in UK veterinary practice at the RVC but now works at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Wisconsin.

Nigel’s initial observation that one in four cows worldwide has a noticeable limp also highlights where regional improvements are being successful. Achieving a herd reduction from 30 percent recorded lameness to less than 5 percent involves hygiene, genetics, nutrition and the control of infectious agents. A future role for immune function enhancers is anticipated.

Achieving a herd reduction from 30 percent recorded lameness to less than 5 percent involves hygiene, genetics, nutrition and the control of infectious agents

With digital dermatitis, prevention of the disease in heifers offers a reduction in disease across the whole herd, with attention to the siting of footbaths for dry cows, heifers and milkers.

What’s the latest on claw horn lesions and ulcers?

Lying time is essential for cow health, but the time spent standing up is related to foot health. Sole ulcers are considered a “standing up” disease.

An interesting video showed how newly calved cows can be dominated out of the milking area of a robot by older cows due to the poor design of the milking layout. One heifer was repeatedly refused entry to the milking area gate. Systematic use of technology allows herd monitoring to detect issues. Without the video, the heifer might have been culled for low milk production. A quality and care audit of 420 cows set a median goal of less than 9 percent for score 2 lameness and less than 1 percent for score 3, whereas scores of 6.3 percent for score 2 and 0 percent for score 3 were achieved.

James Wilson brought together the recent research on claw horn lesions and how it is adapted for the benefit of dairy cows. Before a sole ulcer, there is sole bruising; concentration on prevention is paramount. As a cow walks heel to toe, heel to toe, lesions start where the hoof hits the ground first.

Claw horn lesions are a heritable trait. Calving is a change of life for a cow with weakness of the suspensory ligaments and inflammatory effects. Anti-inflammatories by injection at calving reduce the risk of lameness for life. The term “early detection prompt effective treatment” (EDPET) is applied, and cows identified with early lameness are treated within 48 hours using a trim, hoof block and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Inflammation at calving also negatively impacts general health.  

The consumers’ view – sustainability and animal welfare

A rather different input was given by Sophie Throup, the technical and sustainability director for Morrisons. Surveys of customers indicate that affordable food is now more important than safe food, with the categories “animal welfare” and “healthy products” rising from 6th to 3rd importance.

She thus highlighted that it is necessary to record and measure on-farm to tell a positive story for consumers and reminds us that the environmental impact of supplying farms is of concern to the supermarket. Choice of suppliers includes efficiency, good welfare and improved environmental impact.

By 2025, all soya will be from non-deforestation sources. The School of Sustainable Food and Farming at Harper Adams University is setting research and training to aim for net zero and sustainable farming.

Looking to the future – technology and innovation

There are now over 800 people on the Register of Mobility Scorers (RoMS), and Laura Randall, chair of the RoMS committee, emphasised the progress that has been made in achieving a professional standard. Annual calibration, audits, training and the adoption of new technologies are ongoing, together with European collaboration. Data sharing is a major future step, but there are recognised difficulties over accessibility. Further information is available from the RoMS website.

A project at the University of Liverpool is about to start aiming to use foot trimmers’ records to influence genetic evaluations. Farmer consent is required to use the data for research.

Talk is ongoing surrounding predictive analytics exceeding welfare requirements in the future

Nial J O’Boyle offered an insight into how artificial intelligence (“Cattle Eye”) is turning data into information and information into insights. Talk is ongoing surrounding predictive analytics exceeding welfare requirements in the future, and the completion of a PhD at Nottingham will enable a greater awareness of the practical applications.   

Data collection and analysis – what’s new and what do I need to know?

Diagnosing and recognising lameness in cattle

Jay Tunstall (Cogent Breeding Ltd) outlined that, unlike milk yield in dairy cows, lameness in beef cattle does not have an obvious indicator. There is poor awareness of the impact of lameness on the beef herd, and more support is needed to advise detection and treatment. A reduction in growth rate with finishing herds is recognised, with white line disease as the most common lesion. Suckler herds, however, have more cases of lameness, but as few farmers weigh these cattle, little information is available on growth.

The importance of pattern recognition

Lameness is often analysed at the cow or farm level, but Nick Britten highlighted the value of reviewing foot records; by using lame foot data, the patterns of lesions and treatments across a range of farming systems can be identified. Analysis of hoof records indicates the current situation with lameness but also provides direction for future work.

An example was given of 100,000 trimming records from over 350 herds:

  • Digital dermatitis showed little change over five years
  • White line disease was recorded in front feet more often than the rear ones
  • Sole bruising increased
  • The incidence of sole ulcer decreased

Gareth Foden (vet) and John Baggs (veterinary technician) presented the findings from an analysis of 156,000 cows using the Vet Impress application. The number of cows referred to a vet by the foot trimmer and farmer was 848 (5.4 percent), with 138 cows referred more than once. Of the cows referred, 14 percent died on the farm, with a median survival time of 100 days. These cows were a complete loss which raises questions about economic assessment and the best welfare outcome for the cow. Within the management plan for referred cows, re-examination is considered essential.

Relationships are the keystone

The lesson learned for vet and trimmer alike is to place more emphasis on farmers to identify problem cows earlier and stop spending time and effort on cows that are unlikely to recover. It is recognised that the relationship between the farmer, vet and foot trimmer can take years to develop but once established offers better welfare and herd outcomes.

The relationship between the farmer, vet and foot trimmer can take years to develop but once established offers better welfare and herd outcomes

Corkscrew claw syndrome – a new challenge?

Nigel Cook highlighted a new syndrome that has been recognised by hoof trimmers in the past five years, but as of yet, there are no published scientific reports on the issue.

Corkscrew claw syndrome is observed in heifers from breeding age upwards in well-managed herds with low levels of lameness. The rear and front medial claws are corkscrewed and take more weight than the outer claw, with weight being taken more by the front feet, leading to splaying of digits and very short lateral claws. The syndrome is associated with thin soles. The comment that if the cow only has one claw to walk on, the sole is going to wear more rapidly, is relevant. There are permanent bony changes, and the problem cannot be fixed, but there is no indication of a strong genetic component.

A study of 83 herds showed an average incidence of 16 percent in heifers, with the worst from 70 percent. There is concern that coarse recycled sand bedding generates hoof wear, leading to inflammation of the pedal bone with abnormal weight bearing during the period of skeletal growth. It is advised that rapidly growing animals are housed on a softer surface with the recognition that sand bedding is good for cows but bad for heifers.

The 2023 Cattle Lameness Academy Seminar was managed by Synergy Farm Health. Further details and information is available from the website.

Richard Gard


Following a 16-year apprenticeship with Beecham, Richard established a project management and development consultancy and writes regular contributions for the veterinary press.

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