Beef feedlot operations are faced with daily tasks of managing feed and cattle inventory, animal health, labor, operational activities and marketing of the resident cattle in the yards. No less important are details to manage the feedlot environment and facilities. All of this is made more tedious and challenging by the forces of Mother Nature. In the northern and central plains, the long winter and the recent spring storms have crippled one area of management that may have created some cattle issues. That area is feedlot pen maintenance and cattle comfort. Many open-lot cattle feeding sites have been burdened by mud and water accumulations - making regular pen cleaning difficult. Closed, confined feeding facilities may be hampered in removing stockpiled manure and or disposal of pit-stored waste. In the face of muddy, soggy feedlot pens, cattle discomfort and lameness are potential problems that producers may be facing. The end result of these problems may be loss of performance and negative closeouts.
Lameness is often considered a disease. However, lameness is really only a descriptor for pain and discomfort of the animal during movement. Lameness can be attributed to many disease conditions and may be difficult in some cases to correctly diagnose. The most common and frequently reported causes of lameness in feedlot cattle include:
- Foot Rot (Infectious Pododermatitis)
- Toe Abscess or Subsolar Abscess
- Injuries to feet, legs or back
- Tendinitis/Synovitis due to Mycoplasma bovis
- Histophilus somnus joint infection
An emerging disease causing lameness in feedlot cattle is the infectious disease labeled, “Hairy Heel Warts” or Digital Dermatitis. This condition is now being recognized more in closed, confinement feeding structures. In regards to laminitis, the winter and spring storms made bunk management and maintaining consistent feed intakes difficult and increased the risk of acidosis. Both clinical acidosis (founder) and subclinical acidosis are predisposing factors for laminitis and “sore footed cattle”. Some individuals will experience excessive hoof overgrowth and progressive lameness. The total effects of acidosis and laminitis will markedly reduce cattle performance and end-value.
There are many references available regarding lameness diseases which you are directed to for detailed information, two of which are listed at the conclusion of the article. Discussion with your animal health consultant and veterinarian regarding details of these conditions will provide specific guidance and management recommendations.
Starts With the Foot
The majority of lameness cases, up to 90%, are related to insult or infection of the feet. A major contributing factor for foot problems in cattle is environmental conditions and more so, the deterioration of the conditions due to weather effects. Persistent, wet conditions will weaken the hoof and skin integrity and makes the tissues more susceptible to abrasion/laceration and bacterial invasion. Drop-offs from concrete surfaces into deep mud can be sources of trauma to hooves and joints. Cattle that attempt to struggle through deep mud or water may experience upper leg, joint or skeletal trauma. Wet, slippery concrete flooring may be a risk for all forms of feet and leg injuries. Packing of mud or soiled, wet bedding between the toes is highly irritating and further predisposing to infections. Broken concrete will be a likely source of feet injuries. Hospital pens that are wet and muddy are highly limiting to cattle comfort and likely to reduce responses to treatments. The emerging foot disease, Hairy Heel Warts, is highly associated with persistent wet, fecal-contaminated surface conditions. Cattle experiencing difficulty in maneuvering around feedbunks and waterers are likely to have reduced feed and water intakes.
Impacts of Lameness
Lameness in feedlot cattle has a measureable impact on cattle performance and profitability. Feed intakes are consistently reduced in lame, painful cattle – reducing gain performance and carcass merit. Incidence rates of diseases causing lameness are quite variable between feedlot operations, seasons and environments. Often, the incidence of lameness is 10-20% of all animals pulled and treated (Stokka et al, 2001). Data from the NAHMS feedlot surveys (1999) reports an average of 16% of all feedlot cattle requiring treatment are classified as a lameness category. In the same report, up to 5% of the total death losses in U.S. feedlots are due to lameness-causing disease. Most striking is the report that up to 37% of feedlot cattle classified as chronic with poor performance are maligned with non-responsive lameness. Many of the chronically affected cattle are salvage slaughtered or euthanized with enormous economic losses. Direct losses of income due to lameness are due to death loss, decreased performance and feed conversion inefficiency. Often carcass yields and quality are reduced. Indirect costs are associated with treatment and labor costs. These findings strongly indicate the need for direct management priorities towards the design of and maintenance of the environment to control adverse pen conditions.
Pen Management Tips
Fully realizing that feedlot pen conditions are difficult to maintain in a constant ideal state, a reminder that pen mis-management has negative impacts on cattle is warranted. Allowing pen conditions to deteriorate may have allowed more risk of lameness to occur. The consequences of poor performance due to lameness will affect the opportunity for profit in many pens of cattle this spring and summer. Regular pen cleaning, mound shaping, drainage and bedding removal are necessary operational tasks. Attention to all flooring conditions in confinement buildings is highly critical. Taking a broad look at the pen environment management plans and storm plans in a feedlot operation is important. Time should be designated for proper pen maintenance and the overall quest for cattle comfort. The payback is better cattle performance. If winter and spring pen maintenance was lacking, the cattle are probably not walking very easy now.
Stokka GL, et al. Lameness in feedlot cattle, Vet Clin No Am Food Anim Pract. 2001 Mar17 (1):189-207
Neb-Guide G93-1159 Feedlot Lameness, Griffin, Perino, Hudson. 1993