Gerry Giggins: Nobody needs to hear any lame excuses in spring


Strip Grazing into late November as parts of the country are still dry under foot. Photo Roger Jones.
Strip Grazing into late November as parts of the country are still dry under foot. Photo Roger Jones.

Gerry Giggins

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.

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This year, many silages are deficient in trace minerals, meaning it is highly advisable to seek specialist consultation on the correct mineral supplementation. The urge to forego the inclusion of minerals for beef finishing animals, is ill advised from an animal health point of view. The cost associated with the loss of production from a lameness outbreak far outweighs the cost of investing in the correct mineral and vitamin supplementation.

The use of rumen buffers and yeasts is always topical at this time of year and generates lots of debate. The rumen can be buffered with the use of long fibre, water, yeast and rumen buffers (including sodium bicarbonate, soluble magnesium, calcareous marine algae and limestone).

Helping to stabilise rumen pH will prevent animals producing softer hoof horn which is commonly seen when the rumen is in a low acidic condition.

Awards night

It was my great pleasure to attend the recent Zurich Farmer of the Year awards night. On the beef front, it was great to see three excellent finalists and a worthy winner in Kilkenny farmer, John Phelan.

John exudes all that is positive about Irish beef production both in what he produces and his attitude. John selects some of the best suckler bred animals available and brings them to finish, achieving the top grid performance. John has adopted the best technologies around grass growing, grass utilisation, forage production and indoor feeding to achieve excellent performance and improved economic return. The paddock layout, shed design and handling facility layout deliver both labour efficiency and improved safety.

John provides a beacon of hope for the future of the Irish beef industry, particularly with animals from the suckler herd.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

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