Health issues in dairy cattle are often related to lameness in addition to mastitis and reproductive issues. Lameness may include a range of hoof lesions, ranging from infectious lesions, such as digital dermatitis, to non-infectious claw lesions, such as sole ulcers or white line lesions. While lameness causes short-term pain and distress to the dairy cow, it has long-term consequences on animal productivity, which significant impacts a dairy operation’s bottom line.
According to the University of Wisconsin-Extension, the cost of simply treating lameness in cows can range from $90 to $300 USD. While treatment of cow hoof problems is a significant cost to the dairy, lameness also leads to reduced milk yield, reduced fertility and increased risk of culling which can result in considerable economic costs. To put this in perspective, according to Willshire et al. (2009), fertility costs account for 39 percent of the total annual cost of lameness within a dairy herd, while milk yield and culling each account for 24 percent and medicine accounts for only 10 percent.
Lameness in Cows Impacts Milk Production
A 2010 study from Archer et al. found that a severe case of lameness within the first month of lactation could reduce 305-day milk yield by 772 pounds (350 kg), while a different study from Bicalho et al. (2008), found that lameness could reduce 305-day milk production by 692 to 935 pounds (314 to 424 kg). Based on a $16 per hundred weight price, the total economic loss in milk production could range from $22 to $149 USD per cow.
These cows don’t just become lame and start producing less milk. They likely have had lower milk production for weeks before they’re identified as lame because inflammation is occurring within the cow before you can physically see that she’s lame using dairy cow locomotion scoring. In addition, as milk production decreases, the risk of a higher somatic cell count increases.
Cow Reproduction: Lameness Increases Open Days
Lameness can also negatively impact dairy cow reproduction and the calving interval. When a dairy cow is not cycling properly — not becoming pregnant or potentially losing a pregnancy — it results in a significant economic loss to the dairy. Lame cows will not breed back as efficiently and this will result in increased days open, causing higher feed and reproductive cost to the dairy operation. For example, it costs a dairy operation approximately $4 USD per day for every day a cow is open. Lameness can extend the time for a cow to become pregnant by two to six weeks, resulting in an economic loss of $56 to $168 USD per cow over a lactation.
Lameness in Cows: Impact on Culling Rates
Once a cow becomes lame, her odds of becoming lame again increase exponentially and cows with a locomotion score of 3 were 8.4 times more likely to be culled from the herd. For example, if a cow gets digital dermatitis, that bacteria stays within the skin and waits for an opportunity to flare up again, so the cow potentially could never truly recover once infected.
According to the National Animal Health Monitoring Service (2007), the average dairy reports a 16 percent cull rate due to lameness and a 26 percent cull rate due to reproductive failure. However, it is possible that in a large portion of those culled due to reproductive failure, the reproductive failure was due to lameness.
Trace Mineral Role in Cow Nutrition
Including performance trace minerals in the diets of dairy cows can help prevent lameness and, ultimately, positively influence the dairy operation’s bottom line.
- Zinc is critical for the development of keratinocytes, which are the basic cells that are used to form skin, hair, nails or claws. The healthier the claw or outside horn is, the less susceptible it is to damage in the cow’s environment. Skin integrity is very critical for preventing digital dermatitis.
- Copper plays a critical role in producing collagen, or connective tissue, which helps make a harder hoof and aids in skin integrity.
- Manganese is responsible for glycoprotein synthesis, which is important for healing wounds, skeletal development and for developing connective tissue.
- Cobalt ensures that cattle have an adequate level of blood sugar to support the formation of the keratinocyte by making glucose. Cobalt plays a critical role in energy metabolism and in protein metabolism, in addition to making glucose.
- Iodine is important for improved immune function, and selenium plays a key role in antioxidant status as well.
Trace Minerals Provide Return on Investment
Zinpro has conducted hundreds of peer-reviewed research trials to demonstrate the role of performance trace minerals on animal wellness and performance. When reviewing a 20-trial research summary related to dairy cattle, Zinpro Performance Minerals, such as Availa® 4 or 4-Plex® C, showed over a 6-to-1 return on investment.
- Zinpro’s 20-trial dairy summary shows that using Availa-4 or 4-Plex will result in an average advantage of two pounds (0.9 kg) of milk per cow, per day. With today’s milk prices of 16 cents per pound, that comes out to a 32-cent increase per cow, per day or a gain of almost $98 USD per cow over a 305-day milking period.
- In terms of reproduction, feeding Availa-4 or Availa-Plus will reduce the number of days it takes for cows to get bred by 13 days on average. If the cost of a cow not rebreeding is $4 USD per day and feeding performance trace minerals results in a cow breeding 13 day earlier, that’s a return of $56 per cow just by feeding performance trace minerals and improving breeding rates.
By including performance trace minerals in dairy cow nutrition plans, dairy producers can help offset the negative impacts of lameness on milk production and reproductive performance.
To learn more about the benefits of incorporating Zinpro Performance Minerals into dairy cattle diets, contact a Zinpro representative today.