Early recognition and pain management have a role in lameness treatment

Earlier recognition and swift treatment of lameness in dairy cows, including pain management, can help animals get back into production more quickly. This is according to Jon Huxley, Professor of Cattle Health and Production at the University of Nottingham.

Professor Huxley says that lameness is relatively underfunded as an area of research in dairy cows compared to other endemic diseases. However, there is a clear weight of evidence for the link between productivity and lameness.

“Lameness has increased over the past two decades,” he says, “And it is very much a disease of high production. From the evidence that I have seen there is a greater risk of lameness among high yielding cows and the situation is worse now than it was ten or twenty years ago.

“There is a body of evidence which demonstrates the impact of lameness on productivity. The extent of the impact depends on the severity of the lameness and the duration of the lameness event but it can adversely affect production by anything from 200 to 600 litres per lactation. It will also affect fertility and can add anything from10 to 40 days to a cow getting in calf.”

Given its impact on production Professor Huxley believes that the industry should be thinking about lameness in a similar way to Mastitis.

He says that much of the received wisdom on lameness and its treatment is not substantiated by experimental fact. For this reason Jon and his colleagues at SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College), RVC (Royal Veterinary College) and the University of Bristol are conducting research funded by DairyCo into lameness and its treatment.

The research looked at the treatment of claw horn lesions in lame cows. Five commercial dairy farms were involved in the study and mobility scores were checked every two weeks. Lame cows that needed treatment were defined as those with a score 2 on the mobility scoring scale.

Professor Huxley says: “There is a mismatch between what researchers and the industry might call lame cows. The cows in our study were not ‘hopping cows’ and some farmers might not regard them as lame, but it’s a gradual process and the effect on the cow is just as apparent at score 2 as it is at score 3, when the cow is severely lame. While I know it would be difficult for every farm to check its cows every two weeks, it is important to recognise the signs as quickly as possible.

The study involved randomised clinical trials with a variety of interventions when the cows became lame. This involved one of four treatments:
A standard therapeutic trim for claw horn lesions
A trim plus a block
A trim plus a three day course of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (ketoprofen)
A trim plus a block plus the non-steroidal

Four weeks after treatment began those cows with blocks had them removed and all cows were mobility scored by an assessor who had no knowledge of the treatment used. The full results will be published next year, but Professor Huxley says that all groups which had additional non-steroidal treatment for pain management as well as the trim, did better than just the trim. The last group – trim plus a block plus the non-steroidal – did best of all.

A side study using an accelerometer on treated cows appears to show that the cows that received ketoprofen and a block behaved most like those that hadn’t been treated at all. He speculates that the non-steroidal helps the cow adapt to the discomfort of the block and thus aids her recovery.

Professor Huxley admits that the study was conducted on a population of cows with lameness that might not classically have been identified and treated at this early stage. However, on the five farms involved in the study the regime has resulted in a halving of lame cows over 12 months, highlighting the potential benefits of early intervention. Furthermore, the regime has now been adopted on a large commercial farm in south-west England with excellent results. Future research will concentrate on looking at chronically lame cows.

He says: “I’m not saying that what the industry is doing now is wrong. It’s about better and best practice. It’s a big challenge and I appreciate that delivering it is complex. However, if farms have a good set up in place, it does make it easier and there are clear benefits.”

The non-steroidal used in the study was Ketofen 10% which recently received approval of the addition of an indication for lameness. It has a zero milk withhold period and repeat treatment can be administered over a three day period.

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