Feeding Heifers and Lameness

Dr. Clell V. Bagley D.V.M.
USU Extension Veterinarian

The article which follows is a very interesting study of the effect of feed on claw health. It is not clearly apparent in the summary, but it is important to note that the �slurry� they mention is the �manure� that the heifers stand and walk in. Those heifers on the wet feed had less dry matter in the slurry/manure, so their feet stayed wetter and they were less healthy.

The effect on the feet may have been entirely due to the environment produced by the feces they discharged; not by the ration consumed. But, the ration consumed determines the feces discharged.

If this effect applies to heifers and persists for several months after the feeding period studied, why not also to cows? (And they don�t say what the ration was after the cows began lactation.)

The key message is: �WF spend longer standing and feeding. It is proposed that standing for longer in less viscous slurry contributed to softer claw horn and more severe heel erosion, predisposing WF to claw horn lesions causing lameness.�

To improve claw health, we need to change those conditions for both heifers and cows. The challenge is �how� to do that.


EFFECTS OF TYPE OF FORAGE FED TO DAIRY HEIFERS: ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN CLAW CHARACTERISTICS, CLINICAL LAMENESS, ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR.

Heifers were reared separately on wet fermented (WF) (grass silage based) or dry unfermented (DU) (straw based) diets. Clinical lameness was recorded and physical claw attributes were measured regularly, up to six months after calving at approximately two years of age. Two months before calving, some aspects of animal behavior and the properties of slurry were studied. The incidence of lameness due to claw horn lesions was significantly higher in WF than in DU. WF suffered more serious heel erosion prior to calving and had softer claw horn at two (heel and axial sole) out of five sites throughout. The slurry produced by WF had lower total solids content and viscosity. WF spent more time standing and feeding. It is proposed that standing for longer in less viscous slurry contributed to softer claw horn and more severe heel erosion, predisposing WF to claw horn lesions causing lameness. Reducing contact with low dry matter slurry is recommended for improving claw health.

This study provides evidence that feeding a wet diet to dairy young stock is deleterious to claw health both before and after calving. The design of the experiment does not allow explanation of the etiology of the lesions. The results suggest that there would be an advantage in reducing the time that any animal�s feet are in contact with slurry. This can be achieved by providing comfortable lying areas to encourage lying down, and frequently removing slurry from concrete surfaces where cattle will walk.

Second, the results consolidate the evidence that poor claw health in young stock is likely to cause problems subsequently in lactation. They indicate that the benefits in feeding dry, unfermented forages during rearing persist beyond the period when the forage is fed.

Vet J. 2005, May, 169(3):317-8

For more information contact Clell Bagley at clellb@ext.usu.edu or (435) 797-1882. ©