We have been shining the spotlight on lameness over the past few months, with our fab foot trimmer Chris and the creation of our LLM Feet First Service making a splash on farms and in previous newsletters (articles can be found on the LLM Website too!). However, these have strongly focused on dairy cattle, so we thought we’d share the importance of keeping on top of lameness in our beef cattle too.

Managing lameness in beef cattle

Recent figures, produced through vet Jay Tunstall’s PhD looking into the levels of lameness in the UK beef herd, show the mean incidence of lameness for finishers is at 8.3%, rising to 14.2% in sucklers. These figures are lower than the mean lameness for dairy cattle which is usually placed around the 30% mark. However, that doesn’t mean lameness in beef animals isn’t important for both welfare and economic reasons. It also becomes more difficult to deal with a beef animal when lame, as lame animals cannot be transported to markets or the abattoir; both key movements in the beef industry.

The figure that should be of note though, is that on average, cattle who have ever been lame, will have a daily live weight gain (DLWG) REDUCTION of 240g a day. This means a longer time to finish, increased costs associated with doing so and a less efficient system. It also puts sucklers in a poorer position to get back in calf and rear a calf if she herself is lame and not keeping up with the herd.

Causes of lameness in beef cattle include infectious causes (e.g. digital dermatitis or foul), non-infectious lesions (e.g. white line disease or sole ulcers), injuries and foreign bodies such as stones. The causes you see most on your farm will vary depending on many factors including stocking density, shed design and slurry management. Outdoor factors such as boggy fields and poaching around gateways or feed areas will also play a role.

Top tips for managing lameness in beef cattle:

  1. Diagnosing and treating lameness usually requires lifting the foot, which can be challenging in beef animals. If you do not have the facilities to do this safely, we would recommend using a professional foot trimmer with a purpose-built foot crush. Alternatively, a vet can sedate the animal to allow safer and more thorough treatment.
  2. Once a case of lameness is identified, find out the cause and provide effective treatment as soon as possible. This will give the best chance of recovery and reduce the risk of ongoing production losses or even the animal having to be culled. Remember that a chronically lame animal cannot be transported and does not qualify for on farm slaughter.
  3. Quarantine new arrivals by keeping them separate from the rest of the herd. Monitor for lameness and run the animals through a footbath. They may be carrying infections such as digital dermatitis even if they are not lame. Please ask us for more information about how to do this effectively as an incorrectly implemented footbathing regime can do more harm than good(!)
  4. Keep records of your lameness cases and what caused them. These records can be discussed with us to identify any patterns and therefore help find solutions to prevent the problem from occurring.