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Photo by Kylene Scott.

Dr. AJ Tarpoff, Extension beef veterinarian at Kansas State University, said multiple factors can cause lameness in cattle out in the pasture. Tarpoff spoke April 15 during the Cattle Conversations webinar series.

“Lameness has been something I've always focused on,” he said. “Both when I was in practice working with clients and producers—to really kind of get a better handle on some of our lameness issues, whether it's in a dirt lot or whether it's out in the pasture, this is something that everybody deals with.”

Solutions must first start with a diagnosis, and that way there is a better treatment outcome.

“Because a lot of these conditions may not be our typical foot rot issue, and they may not be responsive,” Tarpoff said. “So the sooner that we can get the accurate diagnosis and accurate treatment, the better outcome to get those animals back into production.”

Tarpoff’s personal opinion is there’s a lot of veterinarians and producers who believe lameness is possibly one of the biggest opportunities for improvement in the beef cattle industry as a whole.

“This is something we all manage, but we do see significant losses,” he said. “We have an economic impact, and it has also been a major key point of focus for a lot of our other meat animal industries.”

Dairy, swine and poultry lameness have been a “very key aspect” when it comes to addressing animal welfare and well being. Beef has faced problems like fatigued cattle syndrome in those finished animals going to slaughter and they appeared lame.

“Lameness is also very visual,” he said. “In some of these lameness conditions they can pop up suddenly. They can be completely normal one day and be three legged lame the next.”

The biggest losses are those animals that need to be culled. It could be an animal that needs to be culled because of its lameness issue, or a railer in the feedlot where it can’t perform to its potential. It has been debilitated long enough but it’s still safe for human consumption and it’s not going to be able to finish with its pen mates. A producer should be able to recoup some of the animal’s purchase cost when lameness issues arise. Cow-calf producers also encounter these sorts of lameness decisions.

“These are real tangible losses that impact our industry economics,” he said.

Tarpoff said every time an animal is treated for lameness in the feedlot that cost is spread across the entire yard.

“When we look at labor, cost of treatment, loss of production—when we put all of that together, one animal that gets treated can be a loss of upwards to $100,” he said. “That's real, that's tangible.”

Lameness does creep up and it is a key component of disease issues seen in the cattle industry.

“Relatively speaking, for total numbers of animals that get placed, a little under 2% of animals may come down with some type of lameness constraint,” Tarpoff said.

How to treat

Early treatment yields success, regardless of what’s being done to treat the animals appropriately the first time, Tarpoff said.

“They will respond rapidly, and get back to regular production,” he said. “It minimizes any the potential losses that our operations can have.”

Cattle are a prey species and will hide illness and lameness. They can hide in a herd and not show all their symptoms. Many producers are guilty of putting cattle in the pasture during the middle of the day when they’re laying down, and focused on head count and not checking to see if any animal is outwardly sick.

“But often when we go out and do this, you don't necessarily get all of the animals up within that pasture and watch them move,” Tarpoff said. “And those animals that are lame, obviously they're going to be laying down the vast majority of the time and they can hide, either within the group or hide their lameness just by not getting up.”

Producers tend to think there isn’t a problem because they’re not seeing anything outwardly wrong with the animals.

“It's always something to think about,” he said. “Early treatment yields success, but we also have to find them. So it's also a key point to make sure that we see these animals in motion as often as we can.”

Simple tool

What tools are available to producers to diagnose lameness?

“Not surprisingly the biggest tool that we have at our disposal was visualization,” he said. “Looking at the feet. Looking at the joints, looking at the legs. Something is abnormal. We see some lameness. So the visualization is really critical.”

Most of the lameness concerns in cattle stems from the foot as it’s what comes in contact with the ground.

In order to understand lameness, producers need to understand of how cattle move. The back feet are where the locomotion of the animal comes from, while the front feet are for holding weight and changing direction.

“Every time they turn, it does put pressure and causes friction on those back feet,” Tarpoff said. “Because that's the driving force we have on those back legs. And because of that, in the way they turn outside toe on the back feet, often yields the most lameness issues.”

Proper diagnosis

Whether it’s foot rot, superficial infections, deep infections or things that are more worrisome, Tarpoff said, one of the key aspects to consider is how to troubleshoot the lameness.

“We have three questions to ask about lameness is there swelling? Where's the swelling?” he said. “Is the swelling symmetrical? Is it equal on both sides of the leg or the foot or the joint or is it only located in one location.”

Be aware and looking ahead into summer, Tarpoff is expecting to see a few lameness issues come up, especially if there is moisture in the ground.

“So it's a good idea to keep these in the back of your mind,” he said. “Take a closer look and if it’s a little more sinister than regular foot rot, make that call to your veterinarian sooner as opposed to later to make sure we can get some adequate therapy to really get down to the true cause to hopefully get them all back.”

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or kscott@hpj.com.

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