Pen conditions might be half the story!
By Julian Cortes
Beef lameness team: Karin Orsel, Ed Pajor, Anice Thomas and Ben Caddey
Digital dermatitis (DD) has been reported in North American feedlots, but the cause is still not fully clear. DD causes ulcers on cattle feet and often results in lameness. The beef lameness team at the University of Calgary, decided to look at foot and leg conformation as well as pen conditions as factors that make it more likely for a feedlot animal to have DD. A better understanding of the potential role of each variable should provide new ideas to improve prevention and treatment.
Lameness reduces growth performance and it reduces animal welfare as the lameness is the result of pain. Also, it is a great concern when cattle are marketed before they are finished or even worse euthanized.
Working with three feedlots in Alberta, we learned that most cattle did not have DD when they arrived at the feedlot. Furthermore, in feedlot cattle that developed DD, their foot and leg conformation were not any different from those that did not develop DD.
In dairy cattle, it is well known that cattle on farms with a dirty environment are at greater risk of developing DD. We wanted to determine if this was also true for beef cattle. We know that feeder cattle spend, on average, 50% of their life in a feedlot pen, so understanding the effect of pen conditions on chance of beef cattle to develop DD is of interest. To do so, cattle in 11 feedlot pens were followed for 1 year, where the condition of each pen was assessed twice per month, according to its level of muddiness: dry, more bedding than mud, more mud than bedding or excessive mud.
Pens with more mud than bedding and excessive mud, had significantly more cattle with DD. Furthermore, cattle with DD, gained between 0.2 to 0.3 lbs/day less compared to penmates without this disease.
Our findings are of interest in Alberta, especially as the spring melt results in poor pen conditions. Wet, muddy pens make it harder for an animal to feed and also decrease its growth as the cattle are less likely to lay down to ruminate (chew their cud). Also, one feedlot worker mentioned: “the wet skin from the Spring gets dry in the Summer, then the skin cracks and DD happens”. More trials are needed to determine if these ideas are true.
Our research emphasized the importance of good and dry pen conditions to prevent new cases of DD. Our ongoing DD research includes work on DD detection led by Anice Thomas and the role of various kinds of bacteria led by Ben Caddey and research into the immunologic responses of the cow by Priyoshi Lahiri.