Monitoring lameness to promote timely culling
Profit margin forecasts for cow/calf producers and feeders have been on the rise.
These forecasts, combined with the need to grow the national cow herd, challenges all producers to make critical decisions about retaining cows or selling them to capture record high prices, explained Heidi Carroll, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension Livestock Stewardship Extension Associate.
“Typical culling rates for beef herds can range from 10-20 percent depending on the manager’s production goals and 20 percent of the annual paycheck can come from the value of cull cows,” Carroll said.
She added that when cows are on the cull list because of lameness, it is important to monitor them.
Lameness problems can arise for various reasons, but Carroll explained, the limping cow will always be seen as a welfare concern.
“Perhaps a cow’s conformation was simply poor for genetic reasons which hinder her mobility. If that is the case, culling cows with poor conformation is important to prevent lameness problems from escalating as she ages. Early culling also prevents her from passing on the same problems to her offspring,” Carroll said.
She encouraged cattle producers to keep good breeding records to monitor conformation problems that could lead to lameness problems and decrease the longevity of cows in the herd.
“Lameness in cows can impact their well-being and behavior that in turn affect their productivity,” Carroll said.
What does lameness look like in the beef industry? On the feedlot side Carroll said lame cattle had two tenths pounds less average daily gain than non-lame cattle.
“These findings from the feedlot should make cow/calf producers think about the impacts of limping cows in the herd when extreme weather changes her maintenance requirements,” Carroll said.
Also, the prevalence of lameness in feeder cattle rose from 1.6-2.5 percent after processing at the feedlot, which Carroll said identifies handling as having an impact on the occurrence of lameness.
“Calm handling and maintained facilities are the keys to minimizing handling-induced lameness,” she said.
Locomotion scoring in beef cattle settings can also help assess management decisions.
“Maybe cattle producers are curious if implementing a new mineral supplement has been effective to improve feet or leg health. If dry-lotting cows, maybe they want to know if the bedding or flooring is impacting lameness,” she said.
This impact can be assessed by regularly (monthly) collecting locomotion scores and tracking the herd average to look for trends.
“Identifying changes in normal locomotion can help detect painful foot problems that can affect production. Early treatment of lameness will improve cow well-being and may help limit the potential effects on cow production, and subsequently her calf’s performance,” Carroll said.
Once a subtle change is noticed, she said quick diagnosis is crucial. “Investigate the foot and leg for obvious problems, such as debris, a wound or foot rot. Determine the most appropriate treatment options with a veterinarian. Consider the likelihood of recovery and the withdrawal times of any medications chosen for treatment.”
If an animal does not show signs of improvement following a veterinarian’s recommended treatment time, Carroll said the decision of either marketing the animal or humanely euthanizing it on the farm must then be discussed.
“Cows that become unable to stand freely or move on their own should not be transported and an approved method of euthanasia should be chosen,” she said.
If the cow is able to be transported, Carroll reminded producers to review withdrawal times of medications used and ensure all withdrawal times are met before marketing the cow. “Implementing these best management practices helps guarantee our food supply remains safe, wholesome, and free of residues,” she said. — WLJ