Lameness in Beef Cattle is Costing on Average £140 per lame animal

Richard Taylor discusses the true economical cost of lameness and the importance of lameness prevention in beef cattle...

“Having worked with beef producers for a number of years, it's clear that lameness is a painful condition for the animal and a costly one for the producer. Whilst there has been a large focus on lameness in dairy cattle, beef cattle have received relatively little attention in comparison. However, it can have big impacts on the beef herd too. Not only is lameness a serious welfare concern due to the pain associated with it, but lame cattle have also reduced weight gains, take longer to finish, which adds to the cost of production. There is also the potential for it to risk the reputation of the industry and consumer confidence in beef, ” explains Richard Taylor.

"I have a keen interest in monitoring the financial implications and working closely with the Vet and foot trimmer to spot the visible conditions early, setting out prevention and treatment programmes to control lameness cases."

A recent study undertaken by Zinpro Corporation, which included nearly 2 million head of beef cattle, lame cattle accounted for 70% of sales of non-performing cattle. The price gained for these lame cattle was just 53% of the original purchase price. 

The table below shows the financial impact of lameness on an intensive beef growing and finishing unit at 200 days.  

So, what can we do to overcome lameness? The key is to spot the signs early and understand what is causing the problem as there are different treatments for different issues. These issues also occur due to different environmental factors as well. In most cases lameness is in the feet and the only way to diagnose is to pick up the foot for examination. The most common cattle hoof problems are:-

  • Foot rot
  • Abscess
  • Digital Dermatitis

Foot Rot

Foot rot in beef cattle is one disease that can be prevalent under certain environmental conditions and in particular geographic areas. Dr. Huw McConochie of Zinpro Corporation comments, “Foot rot in beef cattle is a bacterial infection of the skin between the toes on hooves that causes pain and swelling. While similar to, and often accompanied by, digital dermatitis, foot rot differs from digital dermatitis in the type of bacteria that causes it and the mode in which it infects cattle.” 

He continues, “Foot rot can be prevalent during extremely dry conditions but is even more so during extremely wet conditions. When cattle hooves are constantly exposed to moisture, the epithelial barrier of the hooves will become compromised, leaving them more susceptible to lesions. This opens the door for bacteria found in manure and slurry to infect the cattle with foot rot.”

Foot rot should be treated with topical antiseptics and antibiotics specifically approved for foot rot by your veterinarian. There are also prevention strategies that are discussed below, in particular the use of Zinpro’s Availa Zn in the ration.


Toe abscess can be a very painful condition and is most commonly seen in young cattle coming in from wet, lush pastures. However, other factors can play a part, for example receiving area may actually be too clean. Dirt and dried manure provide a cushion to the hoof and so animals coming on to hard concrete are at risk. Early signs of toe abscesses are very subtle, and cows may appear sore and short strided. If you can catch it early and get some treatment and advice from your vet then it shouldn’t become a problem. If left, cows become very lame and they may need to be treated with long duration antibiotics.

Digital Dermatitis

The occurrence of Digital Dermatitis is increasing in beef cattle. Dr. Huw McConochie comments, “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.”

The Impact of Lameness

The impact of reduced growth and performance, the cost of treatment and the labour required to pull animals in for treatment can lead to significant economic losses.

Lame cattle become less mobile and will visit the feed trough less often. This typically causes a reduction in dry matter intake and a reduction in average daily gain, ultimately leading to more days on feed. 

Monitoring and Identification

Producers should visually examine animals for lameness issues every day because the key to a successful treatment is quick identification. 

The Ruminant Specialists at Advanced Nutrition are all trained in the Step-Up Lameness Management Program from Zinpro and can use the locomotion scoring system to help diagnose beef cattle lameness issues. 

As some causes of lameness are environmental, it’s advisable to manage the environment to control exposure to overly wet or overly dry conditions. Again, your local Ruminant Specialist can help advise on this.  


Prevention rather than cure

As well as monitoring lameness on your farm, implementing a well-designed foot bathing protocol, improving the cow’s environment and optimising diet can also be utilised as a way to prevent lameness. We work closely with Zinpro Corporation, who bring a series of Performance Minerals to provide a balanced diet that maintains good skin integrity and improves immune function. In particular, Availa®Zn can be used to prevent foot rot along with a complete trace mineral performance package in Availa®Plus that has been proven to improve the immunity and offer cows more protection from the bacteria that causes digital dermatitis.

For details on the full range of minerals or to enquire about the Step Up Program from Zinpro, please just get in touch on 015242 63139 or email and one of the team will be happy to help.









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