Advancing the health and well-being of animals and people

Principal Investigator: Rodrigo Bicalho

Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Services
Contact Information:  Email: - Phone: 607-253-3140
Sponsor:  USDA - Federal Formula Funds – Animal Health and Disease Research Program
Grant Number:  NYC-478438
Title:  Decreasing Lameness in Dairy Cattle
Annual Direct Cost:  $30,000
Project Period:  10/01/2011-09/30/2014

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): A growing concern of the dairy industry is to increase dairy cattle wellbeing in anticipation of a demand from the general public of welfare-certified dairy products. Lameness is one of the most important welfare issues of high-producing dairy cows in North America (Vermunt, 2007). It is a debilitating condition that challenges sustainability of production systems used in North America because of the pain and subsequent animal welfare consequences (Vermunt, 2007) and also the significant economic losses (Warnick et al., 2001). A study conducted in England concluded that lameness was the second most costly disease in the dairy industry following only mastitis (Kossaibati and Esslemont, 1997). Lameness results in earlier culling of animals as well as lower carcass weight, conformation class, and fat cover class and hence a lower carcass economic value (Booth et al., 2004; Bicalho et al., 2007c; Fjeldaas et al., 2007). It has also been reported that prevention or early identification and treatment of the problem can improve the value of the carcass and reduce culling rates (Fjeldaas et al., 2007). Several studies have also shown that lameness has a negative effect on the fertility of dairy cows (Sprecher et al., 1997; Hernandez et al., 2001; Garbarino et al., 2004). More recently it has been reported that cows detected with clinical lameness in the first 70 days in milk (DIM) were 25% less likely to become pregnant compared to non-lame cows (Bicalho et al., 2007c). The prevention of lameness is the most important step to reduce its welfare implications for cows and associated economic losses to the dairy farmers (Mill and Ward, 1994). Hence it is important of create a system that accurately predicts the occurrence of lameness, thus allowing farmers to target high risk animals with preventive strategies. The goal of the proposed project is to conduct applied research to bring new understanding to the prevention of lameness in dairy cattle. Specifically, in the proposed study we will develop a mathematical equation that will predict the incidence of lameness during the lactation period using data collected at dry-off. Furthermore, we will evaluate 3 distinct lameness preventive strategies. This study will provide dairy farmers across North America with realistic preventive strategies that will enhance the welfare of their lactating dairy cows and likely improve the profitability of their dairy operations "enhancing economic opportunities for agricultural producers."