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Bovine lameness--its association with nutrition and management.


Lameness in farm animals is an important but often overlooked ailment affecting negatively the reproductive performance and productivity. Lameness is regarded as the most representative animal based indicator of welfare in dairy cows (Whay et al., 2003) as symptoms of discomfort, pain, injury and distress associated with lameness affect the cow's ability to interact both socially and with her physical environment (FAWC, 1997). The losses associated with lameness include reduced body weight and condition, reduced feed intake for limited mobility and decreased longevity. Milk production and fertility are adversely affected (Sprecher et al., 1997 and Warwick et al., 2002) increasing the rates involuntary and premature culling and also predisposing to other diseases such as displaced abomasum, ketosis and mastitis.

The causes of lameness are multi-factorial in nature involving managemental, nutritional and genetic factors impacting the structural and functional integrity of the hoof. In this communication an attempt has been made to elucidate the nutritional and managemental factors associated with lameness and measures to be made for effective prevention and control of lameness in dairy cows.

Bovine hoof

The horn is the product of renewing epidermis of the outermost layer of the claw. The 'keratinocytes' of the epidermis are positioned on a basement membrane in immediate contact with the underlying dermis (Galbraith et al., 2006). The cells receive nutrients from the dermis as the epidermis is avascular. The functional integrity of horn depends on effective epidermal adhesion and this involves proteins such as cadherins and hemidesmosomes which connect cells to the basement membrane with anchorage by proteins such as integrins. The gap junctions comprised of connexion proteins which have role in the transport of nutrients in the avascular epidermis and transport of signalling molecules between keratinocytes.

The intercellular cementing substances, composed of glycoproteins and complex lipids, are important for epidermal adhesion (Tomlinson et al., 2004). The fatty acid of skin, predominantly of ceramides and glucosylceramides provides adhesion between adjacent cornified epidermal cells. The basement membrane is composed of three layers i.e. lamina lucida which connects to the basal epidermal cells by hemidesmosomes involving integrins and the underlying lamina densa by transversely anchoring laminin proteins. The fibroblast cells of the dermis involves in the production of paracrine and autocrine growth factors and extracellular proteins. They are also involved in formation of proteolytic metalloproteinase enzymes in the extracellular matrix the elevated level of which is also the expression of injured claw tissues. Fibroblast cells also synthesise adhesion molecules such as fibronectins.

The hypodermis in the claw is situated between the dermis and the pedal bone except in areas where it is absent, the dermis is directly joins to the bone. The vascularised hypodermis is mainly composed of adipose tissue cells in a fibro-collagenous matrix fashion and is important under the perioplic and coronary segments i.e. the coronary cushion and in association with the bulb i.e. the digital cushion. These protect the sensitive underlying dermal and epidermal tissues from contrusion damage produced by the pedal bone (Fig. 1).


Nutrition for hoof quality and health

In dairy cows, the required nutrients for horn production are amino acids, especially sulphur containing amino acids such as cysteine, fatty acids such as linoleic and arachidonic acid, minerals particularly calcium and trace elements like zinc and vitamins particularly biotin (Tomlinson et al., 2004).

The actively involved amino acids for horn synthesis are cysteine, histidine and methionine (Ekfalck et al., 1990). Cysteine is required for the formation of bonds between cysteine residues which is an integral step in the final stage of horn formation. Calcium is involved in the activation of enzyme which is essential for the final steps in the production of the mature horn cell (Mulling et al., 1999). The zinc plays an important role in the formation of structural keratin proteins. Copper as an activator of several enzymes involves in the formation of the chemical bonds between keratin filaments (O'Dell, 1990). It is essential for structural strength on the cellular level giving rigidity to the horn cells. Cattle suffering from a subclinical copper deficiency are more susceptible to heel cracks, foot rot and sole abscesses (Puls, 1984). Optimum level of selenium ensures maintenance of the intercellular cementing substances of horn. Biotin is involved in keratin protein synthesis and formation of the intercellular cement (Sarasin, 1994; Whitehead, 1988). Biotin also plays a significant role in reducing white line separation in dairy heifers. Vitamin A is required for normal growth and development as well as for maintenance of skeletal and epithelial tissues including the claw epidermis (NRC, 2001).

Factors predisposing lameness

Factors contributing lameness in dairy cattle include claw horn lesions (i.e. sole ulceration, white line disease, white line abscessation and thin sole), skin lesions of hoof (i.e. digital dermatitis, foul in foot and interdigital growth) and factors of non-foot origin (e.g. bone, muscle and joint damage, trauma with secondary infection due to cubicle injuries or trauma associated with calving). Higher incidence of lameness is associated with poor hygienic and sanitation programme, insufficient space, unbalanced ration, improper feeding management, poor handling during milking and routine procedures in the farm, incorrect cubicle dimensions and design and environmental stress.

During the transition period, the wear and tear of hoof increases as the animal spends more time standing and for the excess movement of the pedal bone within the hoof results in damage to the corium leading to lameness for sole ulcers and white line disease. Requirement of excessive standing for milking, feeding, drinking and for social interactions may result in lameness in dairy cows (Leonard et al., 1996). Uncomfortable stalls i.e. without enough space for rising and lying down and lack soft bedding increases the standing time and exposure to unhygienic conditions, particularly for the rear feet (Leonard et al., 1994). Uncomfortable bedding and bedding materials e.g. hard floors increase the risk of sub-clinical laminitis (Bergsten, 1994).

High fermentable carbohydrates and low fibre in the ration may predispose lameness. It was observed that in wheat-based high starch rations with equal energy and high fibre rations fed pre and post-partum to cows, the sole haemorrhage was significantly higher in the high starch fed group (Blowey et al., 2000). High fermentable carbohydrates may lead to lactic acid accumulation in the rumen resulting lactic acidosis (Cricklow and Chaplin, 1985). There are also reports of higher lameness scores with higher concentrate-forage ratio (Manson and Leaver, 1987), higher concentrate amount (Manson and Leaver, 1988a) and higher dietary protein intake (Manson and Leaver, 1988b). Wet and acidic silage, silages with high ammonia and leafy silage may also result acidosis resulting lameness.

Nutritional risk factors associated with lameness

The feeds and feeding management significantly affect the occurrence of lameness. Improper feed delivery and bulk management practices may cause acidosis resulting in lameness. Errors in nutritional composition for faulty analysis of feed ingredients may result in metabolic disorders. The inaccuracy in nutrient delivery may be because of incorrect amounts of ingredients incorporated to the TMR. Feeding a partial TMR or some portion of the daily allotment of forage or concentrate separately from the mixture may lead to variations in nutrient consumption among cows within a group. It is recommended that the TMR should contain 8-10% (as such basis) coarse particles or particles. It is reported that TMR coarse particle fractions of 7.9% and 3.5% (as such basis) resulted in low and high incidence herds for laminitis, respectively. Fault bunk management practices are associated with an increased risk of ruminal acidosis and laminitis.

First lactation heifers when fed individually may spend 10-15% more time during eating and may consume more feeds per day than feeding in groups with mature cows. Feeding an ionophore (monensin) to feedlot cattle increased meal frequency and reduced average meal size in two trials reviewed by Milton (2000). Nagaraja et al. (1987) reported that several antimicrobial feed additives, including the ionophores (monensin and lasalocid), reduced lactic acid concentrations in vitro through their inhibition of the lactic acid producer Streptococcus bovis. Dietary supplementation of sodium bicarbonate buffers the decline in ruminal pH that is observed post feeding (Erdman, 1988). The recommended inclusion rate for sodium bicarbonate is 0.75 to 1.0% of TMR dry matter. Factors that may make a TMR prone to sorting include: DM of forage and mixture, particle size, amount of hay added, quality of hay, frequency of feeding, bunk space and feed access time. Under such circumstances, small amount of TMR should be fed at frequent interval, good quality hay must be incorporated and addition of water and liquid molasses are recommended.

Feeding management of transition cows

Bovines are very susceptible to lameness during transition period because of the physiological and behavioural changes which cause damage to the corium, the producer of healthy hooves. One of the primary physiological needs of transition cows is to synthesize and direct glucose to the mammary gland. The cow accomplishes this through hepatic gluconeogenesis (Reynolds et al., 2003) and decreasing the oxidation of glucose by peripheral tissues (Bennick et al., 1972). Overfeeding during the dry period may give rise to hyperinsulinemia and hyperglycemia in early lactation and this condition may predispose cows to laminitis (Vermunt and Greenough, 1994). In the early lactating dairy cow, there is decrease insulin sensitivity (Cowie et al., 1980) and an inverse relationship exists between the circulating insulin and animal productivity (Hart et al. , 1978) and could compromise production of claw horn keratin due to depressed uptake of glucose and amino acids (Hendry et al., 1999).

Intake of excessive or deficient amounts of concentrates prepartum may increase the risk of acidosis. Excessive feeding may reduce the ruminal pH increasing the lactic acid production. Importance of minerals for hoof health.

Calcium: Calcium is essential for keratinization and cornification process as it involves in the activation of epidermal transglutaminase which is active in cross-linkage of the cell envelope keratin fibres and in the initiation and regulation of the terminal differentiation of the epidermal cells. Transglutaminase also plays integral role to activate the final step in the production of the mature fully cornified keratinocytes. Insufficient calcium provided to maturing keratinocytes due to inadequate vascular supply (Nocek, 1997) or calcium unavailability due to hypocalcemia may lead to depressed transglutaminase activity and formation of dyskeratotic horn.

Iodine: Deficiency of iodine may increase the incidence of foot rot in dairy cattle for depressed immune response. It is reported that iodine has direct anti-bacterial properties and serum iodine concentration of 60-80 g/dl is thought to be prophylactic and cellular response is improved by feeding iodine in the form of ethylenediamine dihydriodide (EDDI) and iodate (Nocek et al., 2000).

Selenium: As a constituent of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, selenium contributes to the protection and maintenance of physiological function of the lipid rich intercellular cementing substance. The recommended level of selenium in dairy diets is 0.3 mg/kg DM (NRC, 2001).

Zinc: Zinc plays key role in the keratinization process (Smart and Cymbaluk, 1997; Mulling et al., 1999; Mulling, 2000) and formation of the structural proteins during the keratinization process. It plays a major role in the immune system (Miller et a/.,1998). Zinc is also required for the synthesis and maturation of keratin (Smart and Cymbaluk, 1997). The required dietary content of zinc for dairy cattle ranges between 18 and 73 ppm depending upon stage of the lifecycle (NRC, 2001).

Copper: Copper is needed for activation of cytochrome oxidase involved in aerobic respiration, lysyl and thiol oxidases for structural integrity of cells, ceruloplasmin essential for absorption and transport of iron for hemoglobin synthesis and superoxide dismutase which works with zinc in reducing the toxic effects of oxygen metabolites (NRC, 2001). The role of copper in the production of a healthy hoof is related to the copper enzyme, thiol oxidase (Smart and Cymbaluk, 1997). Thiol oxidase increases the structural strength of horn by crosslinking adjoining keratin filaments (Smart and Cymbaluk, 1997). In addition, strength of connective tissues such as tendons and laminae is dependent on copper. The copper containing enzyme, lysyl oxidase forms the cross linkages between collagen fibres, thus giving connective tissue strength. The required dietary content of copper for dairy cattle ranges between 9 and 16 ppm depending upon stage of the life cycle (NRC, 2001).

Manganese: Manganese is indirectly related with the keratinisation process of the hoof as it is required for the activation of galactotransferase and glycosyltransferase enzymes which are needed for the synthesis of chondroitin sulfate side chains of proteoglycan molecules (Keen and Zidenberg-Cherr, 1996; NRC, 2001). Manganese also activates pyruvate carboxylase which catalyses carbohydrate synthesis and it is required for gluconeogenesis and production of cellular energy for production of quality horn tissue (Keen and Zidenberg-Cherr, 1996). Manganese plays a role in the process of cartilage and collagen formation and bone growth (Miller et al., 1998). The required dietary content of manganese for dairy cattle ranges between 13 and 40 ppm depending upon

stage of the life cycle (NRC, 2001).

Cobalt: The primary physiological role of cobalt is the formation of vitamin [B.sub.12] in the rumen. A vitamin [B.sub.12] deficiency impairs protein and energy metabolism resulting in lameness. The recommended dietary content of cobalt for lactating dairy cattle is 0.11 ppm (NRC, 2001).

Importance of vitamins in claw horn production and health

Vitamin A is required for developing the structure and quality of keratinized horn tissue and cell differentiation (Olson, 1996). Vitamin D affects the keratinization process through its involvement in the absorption and mobilization process of calcium within the body. Vitamin E plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of keratinized tissues as the intercellular cementing substance is composed of lipid rich material (Mulling et al., 1999). Deficiency may produce oxidative stress of cells and this may the reason why transition dairy cows fed low levels of Vitamin E are likely to suffer from lameness and production of poor horn tissue. Biotin is of greatest importance during the keratinisation process of hoof and is essential for formation of the complex lipid molecules in the intercellular cementing substance.

Feeding management and rationing to prevent lameness

The feeding management and rationing should focus on to reduce the risk for acidosis. The precautions to be taken include: a gradual change over to the lactation diet, feeding routinely to stimulate natural digestion, and feeding well-balanced diets with enough dietary fibre. The following measures may also be adopted to reduce lameness particularly in dairy heifer:

1 Heifers should be allowed to acclimatise to the post-calving/milking ration well before calving.

2 Dry cows with high milk producing trait must be moved to a transition diet around 2 weeks before calving.

3 The unnecessarily high levels of protein as well as high starch/sugar should always be avoided in the diet.

4 Abrupt changes in the ration should be avoided during lactation.

5 Wet, highly acidic silages should always be avoided if possible; if offered supply of enough dry forage must be ensured.

6 Monitoring of intake level of forages should be made to examine whether the forage: concentrate ratio is ideal or not.

7 Always a planned feeding strategy should be followed depending on the level of milk output and body condition.

8 Any major changes of the ration should always be avoided, particularly at calving.

The Sub Acute Rumen Acidosis (SARA) is one important factor for lameness in dairy cattle. When there is consumption of large amount of ruminally available carbohydrates with very low amount of dietary fibre or both, it results acidosis as well as an aseptic inflammation of the dermal layers inside the hoof i.e. laminitis. During the last two to three months of gestation period, feeding extra concentrate is one common practice which is also known as steaming up. But, both over and under 'steaming up' is detrimental and may lead to SARA.

Heat stress may be a risk factor for laminitis in dairy cows as it limits the amount of time cows spend in stalls (Cook et al., 2004). When fed either high-roughage or high-concentrate ration under hot-humid environment, there may be lower ruminal pH (Mishra et al., 1970) because of decreased rumination activity (Collier et al., 1982). Managing facilities to optimize cow comfort and minimize heat stress is an important component of laminitis prevention.

There are feed additives inclusion of which may decrease the risk of SARA and hence laminitis in dairy cows. Feeding monensin can reduce the lactic acid concentration through inhibition of the lactic acid producer Streptococcus bovis (Nagaraja et al., 1987). Dietary supplementation of sodium bicarbonate @ 0.75 to 1.0% of TMR dry matter may reduce the ruminal pH and hence attenuate SARA.

Biotin deficiency for insufficient conversion of lactate to pyruvate and associated reduction of rumen pH in high concentrate diet may result in cellular lactic acidosis (Mock, 1996) and subsequently lameness. It may be because of biotin responsible for lipogenesis which is required for synthesis of intercellular cementum establishing horn cell adhesion in claw horn (Koester et al., 2002). It is also reported that feeding maize silage, associated with acidosis, results lameness, particularly 'laminitis' and sole ulcers (Amory et al., 2006).


The prevention of lameness is the most important step to reduce its welfare implications of cows and associated economic losses to the dairy farmers (Mill and Ward, 1994). Lameness is an acute problem associated with higher production, more intensive feeding and confined rearing conditions of dairy cows. Preventing lameness requires a focused programme with the active cooperation, commitment and attentiveness of the owner, employees, veterinarians, nutritionists etc. recognising the main types of lameness occurring in the herd and the seasonal and lactational patterns of lameness under the existed managemental and environmental condition. Adequate feeding strategies balancing nutritional needs and proper feeding management will help to reduce this very often ignored but economically important ailment of dairy cows (Table 1).


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Rajat Buragohain (1) Department of Animal Nutrition College of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry Central Agricultural University Selesih Aizawl--796014 (Mizoram) (1) Assistant Professor and Corresponding Author E-mail:
Table 1: Nutritional check list to minimise lameness

Concentrate        Feed little and often.       Maintain constant
                     Maximum 4 kg per feed.       rumen pH and avoid
                                                  fluctuations in
                                                  rumen pH. Avoid
                                                  acidosis. Ideal
                                                  maximum is 2kg
                                                  concentrate per
                                                  feed, although not
                                                  always practical.
                                                  TMR is very
                                                  beneficial in this
                   Max 28% starch/sugar in      To avoid acidosis.
                     the diet dry matter.         However, some cows
                                                  are fed higher
                                                  levels without
                                                  problem. What is
                                                  critical is the
                                                  combination of high
                                                  starch / sugar with
                                                  low fibre diets.
Protein            Avoid excess: 18-19% CP
                     for high yielding cows.
                   Balance energy and protein
Forage             Minimum 40% of diet          Ensure sufficient
                     preferably over 50%          fibre in the diet.
                   Ensure good forage intake.   Aim to provide high
                                                  dry matter silage
                                                  with low
                                                  fermentation acids
                                                  and ammonia content.
                                                  Plenty of feed space
                                                  and good trough
                   Avoid too much oil in the    Some oils tend to
                     diet (less than 6%).         inhibit fibre
                                                  digestion in the
                                                  rumen. Choose fat
                                                  sources with care.
Management         Don't make sudden changes    It takes the rumen
                     to the diet.                 about two weeks to
                                                  fully adjust to new
                   Provide good access to       Particularly
                     some long forage.            important when leafy
                                                  wet, short chop
                                                  silage or lush
                                                  grazing is fed. If
                                                  cubicles or straw
                                                  yards are well
                                                  bedded then bedding
                                                  straw may be
                   Avoid fat cows at calving.   Aim for a condition
                                                  score of 3. Fat cows
                                                  have lower intakes.
                   Don't feed mouldy            Mycotoxins produced
                     forages or feeds.            from moulds, can
                                                  induce various
                   Offer salt, if low sodium    The cow has a
                     forages fed. Consider        tremendous ability
                     sodium bicarbonate if        to buffer diets
                     feeding very acid            naturally with
                     silage and / or              saliva. Provide salt
                     excess starch.               if desired, and
                                                  bicarbonate if
                                                  necessary (50-150
                   Ensure a smooth transition   Essential for
                     from  dry cow diet to        heifers but
                     milking cow diet.            important for higher
                                                  yielding cows.
Minerals,          Can be important.            Not a solution.
  Vitamins and
  trace elements

Source: Action on Animal Health and Welfare, March 2007.
Revised October 2008.
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Date:Jul 1, 2012
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