Animal Health

Detecting cause of lameness the first step

By Dairy News

LAMENESS CAN be on par with multiple mastitis cases as one of the costliest animal health issues on a dairy farm.

More than 75 per cent of all lameness in Australian dairies is related to non-infectious lesions, with White Line lesions being the most prevalent.

An infectious lesion requires different treatment to a non-infectious lesion (i.e. Footrot).

Antibiotics are an essential treatment for a clear case of Footrot (Infectious Lesion), however using them on a non-infectious claw lesion will likely do very little to assist the animal.

As global pressure mounts to reduce the use of antibiotics in agriculture, it’s imperative to understand exactly what lesion your cows have to be able to develop a sound treatment and, even more importantly, prevention plan.

The first step is the detection of lameness.

When animals display an impaired locomotion to their walk ( it is demonstrating the first visual reference that the animal is in pain and is not as productive as she could be.

Once lameness is detected, the feet need to be inspected.

A higher percentage of issues is associated with their claws so the feet need to be safely picked up.

More than 75 per cent of all lameness is associated with the rear foot with the lesion occurring on the rear outside claw the majority of the time.

Infectious Lesion: Footrot

Footrot signs are inflammation, heating of the hock and often a pungent smell coming from the claws.

The anaerobic bacteria that is responsible for Footrot needs a site of entry into the skin.

Finding this can be done by using a gloved finger to swipe between the claws looking for any hard object that could cause a wound and removing it.

If you are satisfied that it is Footrot, a course of prescribed antibiotics is recommended.

Regardless of the lesion, early detection and treatment will lead to a quicker recovery.

With Footrot, the cow’s defense mechanism is to wall off the infection internally. Once this occurs, antibiotics find it increasingly difficult to reach the site of infection.

Footrot in Australia is often elevated during wet and stressful conditions and when the animal is struggling to meet energy and mineral demands, in particular, glucose and Zinc.

The immune system uses additional glucose when triggered. Ensuring enough metabolised energy is in the diet will assist the immune system.

Zinc along with numerous other nutrients are also required. Zinc, an essential mineral, is not stored well therefore it is required as a daily supplement.

Maximizing both the level and source of Zinc will help maintain healthy and effective skin (epithelial tissue). This will assist in preventing penetrations and improve the immune response if punctures do occur.


Running an antimicrobial solution in a deep, long, and well-maintained footbath “MAY” help.

It will depend upon how well you are able to manage the footbath as to how effective it will be. The footbath will be compromised if:

  • Cows walk straight into mud/manure after the footbath.
  • The solution does not cover the entire foot to a depth of at least 15 cm.
  • There are not two dunks in solution by each claw.

Changing the solution after 150 cows have passed through when cows are muddy will help maintain the antimicrobial status of the solution.

An ill-managed footbath may actually be worse than not using one at all, so please ensure that you know what lesion you are trying to prevent or control and run the footbath to current best practice.

What is often overlooked is the prevention that can be done from within the animal.

  • Maintaining an effective skin barrier and highly functioning immune system is imperative to the prevention of lameness of both infectious and non-infectious lesions.
  • Ensuring your cows have enough energy, macro and micro minerals along with adequate vitamins is a well proven method.
  • Ongoing research at Zinpro has delivered numerous repeated studies across many species of animals where a proven performance response has been seen.
  • Coupled with this research, Zinpro provides on-farm management programs such as First Step, allowing review of diets for optimum levels of nutrients and detection of antagonists that are known to prevent essential mineral uptake to maximize the source response from both inorganic and Performance minerals.
  • Both infectious and non-infectious lesions can be controlled with the right management and use of an optimized diet.
  • Feeding proven performance trace minerals to your herd.

Contact 1800 946 776 for more information on lesions, prevention strategies or trimming.

• Dean Fry is an account manager with Zinpro Australia.