The importance of lameness in primiparous dairy heifers is increasingly recognised. Although it is accepted that clinical lameness in any lactation increases the risk of future lameness, the impact of foot lesions during the first lactation on long-term lameness risk is less clear. This retrospective cohort study aimed to investigate the impacts of foot lesions occurring around the time of first calving in heifers on future lameness risk, daily milk yield and survival within a dairy herd. Records were obtained for 158 heifers from one UK dairy herd. Heifers were examined in 2 month blocks from 2 months pre-calving through to 4 months post-calving. Sole lesions and white line lesions were scored on a zero to 10 scale and digital dermatitis on a zero to 3 scale. Outcomes investigated were; lameness risk based on weekly locomotion scores, average daily milk yield and culling risk. Mixed effect models were used to investigate associations between maximum lesion scores and outcomes. Lesion scores in the highest score categories for claw horn lesions (sole lesions and white line lesions) in the 2 to 4 month post-calving period were associated with an increased risk of future lameness; heifers with white line lesion scores ≥3 compared with scores zero to 1 and heifers with sole lesion scores ≥4 compared with score 2, at this time point, had a predicted increased risk of future lameness of 1.6 and 2.6 respectively. Sole lesions ≥4 were also associated with a reduction in average daily milk yield of 2.68 kg. Managing heifers to reduce claw horn lesions during this time period post-calving may provide health, welfare and production benefits for the long-term future of those animals. A novel finding from the study was that mild lesion scores compared with scores zero to 1, were associated with a reduced risk of future lameness for white line lesions and sole lesions occurring in the pre-calving or 2 to 4 months post-calving periods respectively. Mild sole lesions in the pre-calving period were also associated with a reduced risk of premature culling. One hypothesis for this result is that a mild insult may result in adaptive changes to the foot leading to greater biomechanical resilience and so increased longevity.
- Dairy heifer
- Hoof lesion
- Milk yield
Randall, LV., Green, MJ., Chagunda, MGG., Mason, C., Green, LE., & Huxley, JN. (2016). Lameness in dairy heifers: impacts of hoof lesions present around first calving on future lameness, milk yield and culling risk. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 133, 52 - 63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.prevetmed.2016.09.006