Gerry Giggins: Nobody needs to hear any lame excuses in spring
Last spring I wrote about an increased number of lameness incidences that I was witnessing towards the end of the winter feeding season. Many measures can be taken at this time of year to significantly reduce the likelihood of it occurring next spring.
All over the world, no matter what the beef finishing system is, the following expression always rings true: healthy, non-lame cattle will contribute a better margin for the producer. Any steps that can be taken now, when the animals arrive on the farm for the first time or at the point of housing, to prevent or control any major lameness outbreaks will help to improve final margins.
One of the categories of cattle at most risk are those that have been traded through livestock markets. Digital dermatitis or mortellaro can be known by many different names, including slurry heel or hairy wart. It is caused by infected animals shedding bacteria on to manure on slats or bedded areas with the risk of healthy animals becoming infected.
Year on year it is a growing concern on beef farms and I would estimate that over 60pc of Irish herds are infected at some stage. If hygiene is poor during transport, in handling facilities and during housing it will increase the risk of slurry irritating and weakening the skin, thus resulting in a greater chance of bacterial infection. Physical injuries such as damage on coarse concrete surfaces or abrasive roadways will lead to skin damage and greater risk of infection.
The practice of foot-bathing all newly purchased animals and animals that are entering their winter accommodation will go a long way towards eliminating any infectious bacteria present. Cattle can be put through a clean foot-bath with an appropriate foot-bath solution upon arrival on farm. The bath should be replenished with clean water and foot-bath solution after approximately 50 animals.
Finishing animals undergoing a typical feeding period of approximately 100 days should be foot-bathed at least once more during this time. If an outbreak of lameness occurs, foot-bathing may need to become a weekly undertaking.
Nutrition will also play an important part in an animal's susceptibility to lameness. Digestive upsets caused by acidosis or mycotoxin poisoning will result in lower rumen pH, which will lead to cattle being tender on their feet and more susceptible to bruising and injuries.
Providing animals with the best start possible at the housing stage will greatly improve immunity and their ability to fight off infections. Ensuring that a high quality mineral is fed, with particular emphasis on the trace mineral component, will promote better hoof health.