Lame Genetics Make Lame Cows

Lameness in dairy cattle continues to be one of the largest animal welfare challenges facing the dairy industry. Often times facility management is the greatest contributor to poor hoof health, however, genetics can be a key factor as well.

Effecting milk production, body condition scores and reproductive performance, lame animals have a tendency to exit the herd prematurely. While lameness will never fully be eliminated from the herd, it is possible to make genetic improvements so that future animals can avoid lameness challenges.

GENTIC RELATIONSHIPS

A recent study conducted by the University College Dublin, published in the November issue of the Journal of Dairy Science, examined the genetic relationship between hoof health traits and conformation traits with producer-scored lameness.

Collecting records on hoof health, mobility scores and body condition scores from more than 11,000 Irish commercial cows, scientists examined the prevalence of overgrown soles, sole hemorrhages and the occurrence of white line disease. Analyzing the data, researchers surmised that certain animals were genetically more susceptible to lameness than others.

HERITABLE HOOFS

Researchers determined that cows who tend to have rear feet that appear more parallel when viewed from behind are also genetically more predisposed to lameness. Genetic correlations between lameness and other feet and leg type traits, as well as between lameness and frame type traits also existed.

Results suggested that if the producer’s goal were to reduce the percentage of lameness incidences within the herd, improve overall hoof health or enhance cow mobility, genetic selection for hoof health and cow mobility traits should be considered.

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