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Cattle Hoof Problems in the Beef Feedlot Can Cost You Plenty

6 minute read

Beef producers want to raise healthy, profitable cattle because having sound, non-lame cattle improves the overall return on investment for producers. Focusing efforts on lameness prevention and the management of hoof health is an integral part of today’s successful feedlot operations.

While lameness in beef feedlots is not new, the increasing incidence of beef lameness due to digital dermatitis is.

What is Digital Dermatitis?

Digital Dermatitis is often referred to as hairy heel wart, and its occurrence in the feedlot is growing. While not yet as prevalent as foot rot, it’s important that you identify it quickly, as it is highly contagious. Digital dermatitis begins as lesions around the claw. They are raw, bright-red or black circular erosions and inflammation (dermatitis) of the skin just above the heel bulbs. The edges form a white margin, and overlong hairs surround the sores or are adjacent to thick, hairy wart-like growths.

As feedlot operators learn more about its prevention and management, now is a good time to look more closely at what digital dermatitis may be costing you.

Lameness in Cattle Impacts Economic Costs

Lameness in cattle is a serious economic problem. Here are just a few results of a study of more than 1.843 million head of cattle in five large western feedlots:

  • 13.1 percent of the cattle were treated for health problems; of these, lameness accounted for 16 percent of the health problems and 5 percent of the deaths.
  • Diseases of the feet in cattle accounted for 70 percent of all cases of lameness.
  • Lame cattle accounted for 70 percent of sales of non-performing cattle. The price received for salvaged lame cattle was only 53 percent of the original purchase price.
  • These salvaged lame cattle were sold — on average — 85 days after their arrival, yet weighed only 10 pounds (4.5 kg) more than their in-weight.

The cattle industry has been researching digital dermatitis for more than 40 years, but we still do not understand its exact causes. We do know that risk factors include poor hygiene, such as muddy pens; chemical or physical skin trauma; or skin barrier incompetence, which allows bacteria to more easily penetrate the skin and migrate to deeper tissues.

Paul Plummer, an assistant professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine at Iowa State University, is conducting research to explore the cause of digital dermatitis. While the industry connects it to the pathogenic bacteria Treponemes, Plummer’s research has shown that Treponemes don’t appear during the earlier development of the disease. This suggests that other bacteria may drive the disease process and later create a favorable environment for the Treponemes to thrive.

We have seen that supplementing the feedlot ration with performance trace minerals from Zinpro enhances cattle health, including good skin and claw/hoof integrity.

Trace Minerals Help Manage Economic Impact

A 2017 study by D. Dopfer of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine looked at the prevalence and effect of digital dermatitis in beef steers provided a diet supplemented with a novel formulation of performance trace minerals from Zinpro (ZPM diet) compared to steers provided a diet with similar levels of trace minerals solely from inorganic sources (CON diet). This was a longitudinal field trial of 1,077 steers in a commercial feedlot. There was an adaptation phase, which was the initial 60 days of feeding the ZPM and CON diets, and a post-adaptation phase which lasted until the cattle were sent to harvest.

In the post-adaptation phase, the relative risk of observing increased digital dermatitis prevalence was significantly (P<0.05) higher in the CON group than the ZPM group. Growth performance, final live weight and hot carcass weights were negatively impacted when steers were observed to have active digital dermatitis lesions (M2 lesions) compared to steers with no M2 lesions over the study period.

Other studies that have looked at costs associated with lost performance due to lameness in beef feedlots have shown these impacts:

  • When a similar healthy animal is compared to an animal with just one M2 lesion, the steer with the lesion had a significant body weight loss of approximately 23.2 lb (10.06 kg) and a mean reduction in hot carcass weights of 12.1 lb (5.5 kg).
  • Average daily gain of lame beef cattle was reduced by 5.5 percent when compared to similarly sound cattle — 3.41 lb/day versus 3.53 lb/day (1.55 kg/day versus 1.6 kg/day).
  • Lameness diagnosed in the finishing phase (121 days on feed until harvest) adds an average of 14.3 additional days on feed for infected animals.

The studies conducted on the economic impact of lameness included results from a variety of facilities: slatted floor, monoslopes and dirt lots. Additionally, producers who have looked at these studies say, in their experience, these numbers are a conservative estimate on impact. One reason may be that diagnosing and treating beef cattle with digital dermatitis takes a significant amount of labor.

Animal Wellness Concern

Doing the right things for these animals is a well-being issue. Primary concerns are whether the animal has pain or distress, and whether the animal is able to express or perform natural behaviors.

Lameness causes pain as seen in a steer’s altered gait or ability to get up from a lying position. Lameness will reduce feed intake as steers back away or are reluctant to come up to the bunk because of that pain. And, lameness interferes with the animal’s ability to express normal behavior such as moving freely and interacting with pen mates.

These negative effects on the animal’s well-being can lead to substantial economic impacts through the inability of cattle to recover, increased days on feed, time/treatment costs, premature removal from feeding, and even death losses. Correctly managing foot health, diagnosing infections correctly and administering prompt treatment are essential to improving the health and recovery of lame animals so they can remain on feed and reach an optimal weight.

If digital dermatitis shows up in your beef feedlot, it can’t be eradicated, but it can be managed. Including Zinpro® Availa® Plus from Zinpro Performance Minerals® represents a trace mineral product developed as an entirely new approach to foot health management by sustaining animal health and making them less susceptible to the bacteria that causes digital dermatitis.

Use the Zinpro® Step-Up® Lameness Management Program from Zinpro and use the locomotion scoring system to help diagnose beef cattle lameness issues.