Understanding Beef Cattle Lameness Takes Knowing Where to Look

Beef cattle are naturally adept at hiding signs of weakness, which makes signs of lameness difficult to quickly diagnose.

Beef cattle are naturally adept at hiding signs of weakness, and as a result, lameness prevalence in beef cattle is often underestimated.

“We see people that come out and say, ‘We don't have issues with lameness.’ But generally speaking if you say that, you’re not looking,” said Dan Thomson, DVM, and Director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University. “The experiences from veterinary school and veterinary practice prove that you miss more by not looking than by not knowing.”

Thomson said that it takes getting out with the crews and spending the time to watch the animals to see what’s really going on.

Dr. Dee Griffin, University of Nebraska, Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center, explained that time spent with the animals is necessary, because lameness may not be observed on a day-to-day basis due to the instinctive nature of the animals. “A steer will stand there with a clearly painful injury, and it will look at you and act like nothing is wrong. Cattle are prey animals and they can hide the worst symptoms in the world.”

Griffin explained that spending time with the cattle helps develop trust. After trust has been established, one can get a true picture of how the animals walk, which can provide clues about lameness and other ailments.

Once cattle can be observed walking at a steady pace or gait, the Step-Up™ Management Program helps provide a systematic approach to identify and manage beef cattle lameness. Developed by Zinpro Corporation in conjunction with the Beef Cattle Institute and Kansas State University, Step-Up focuses on locomotion scoring to assess the prevalence and severity of lameness.

“I think the critical aspect about this scoring system is that it’s a simple and effective means to identify cattle that need to be treated for lameness,” said Connie Larson, Ph.D., Ruminant Research and Nutritional Services Manager, Zinpro Corporation. “We can easily train individuals on how to identify and assign cattle to different locomotion categories.”

Locomotion scoring is based on the observation of cattle walking (gait), with emphasis on head bob and stride length. The system uses a simple 0 to 3 scale to assess the severity of lameness in beef cattle (0 = normal; 1 = mild lameness; 2 = moderate lameness; 3 = severe lameness).

Larson said it’s important to train people within the industry to get a better sense of identifying those animals that are in categories 1 and 2. “We’re looking at mild to moderate lameness and that allows an opportunity to have an intervention. Can we treat these animals? Can we manage these animals to prevent them from becoming a category 3?” she said. Also, when lameness is recognized early, the success rate of treatment is higher and it is easier to mitigate the pain the animal is experiencing.

“When we look at the Step-Up program, I think it’s important to recognize that we can apply it through the entire beef cattle production system,” emphasized Larson. “How we handle and manage cattle, and address issues such as lameness at all stages of production, underscores that we are doing what we can to identify and correct situations that comprise animal welfare.”

To learn more about locomotion scoring beef cattle, contact your Zinpro representative and visit the Step-Up video library on www.zinpro.com. Educational posters for beef cattle locomotion scoring and lesion identification are available for request from Zinpro Corporation.

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