A prospective cohort study of factors associated with the digital cushion thickness in dairy cattle

Bethany E. Griffiths*, Matthew Barden, Alkiviadis Anagnostopoulos, James P. Wilson, Evangelos Lamprou, William Tulley, Cherrill Bedford, Androniki Psifidi, Georgios Banos, Georgios Oikonomou

*Corresponding author for this work

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Key factors such as stage of lactation, parity and body fat reserves have been associated with the digital cushion thickness, however, there are discrepancies between the results of previously published studies. The objective of this study was to examine the association of stage of lactation, body fat reserves, parity, and lesion incidence with the digital cushion thickness (DCT) in a large cohort of intensively monitored cows. Across 4 UK farms, 2,352 cows were prospectively enrolled and assessed at 4 time points; before calving (T1-Precalving), immediately post-calving (T2-Calving), in early lactation (T3-Early) and late lactation (T4-Late). At each time point body condition score was recorded, the presence of sole lesions (sole ulcers and sole hemorrhage) and white line lesions were assessed by veterinarians, and an ultrasound image was taken to retrospectively measure the back-fat thickness in the pelvic (BFT) region and the digital cushion on the hind left lateral claw. Mixed effects multivariable linear regression models, with the cow as a random effect were fit to examine the association between explanatory variables and the DCT. Explanatory variables tested were farm, parity, stage of lactation, body condition score, BFT, height, the presence of a lesion at the time of measurement, the chronicity of a lesion during early lactation, predicted maximum daily milk yield and the rate of milk production rise in early lactation. Stage of lactation and farm were both associated with the DCT, however an interaction was present and this DCT pattern of change was farm dependent. Two distinct patterns emerged; one indicated the nadir to occur shortly after calving, the other indicated the nadir to occur during early lactation. Neither back fat thickness nor BCS were significantly associated with the DCT. Heifers displayed thinner digital cushions compared with multiparous cows, however, this effect was dependent on the stage of lactation, with heifers having a thinner digital cushion up until late lactation, by which time the DCT was commensurate with multiparous animals. Sole lesions and white line lesions at the time of measurement were associated with the DCT (sole lesion; Estimate: −0.07mm, 95% CI: −0.14–0.00, P = 0.039, white line lesion; Estimate: 0.28mm, 95% CI: 0.15–0.42, P < 0.001).
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Early online date22 May 2024
Publication statusFirst published - 22 May 2024


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