I recently visited a Hereford beef client – he had noticed five cows with sudden onset lameness. All the cows were significantly lame in one foot each.
Each cow had the affected foot lifted and assessed. The cows all had very similar lesions at the heel bulbs between the back of the claws. There was no swelling but the lesions were oval, moist and mottled grey in appearance, a few older lesions also had warty growths and smelt bad. When they were cleaned, they were red and raw. A diagnosis of Bovine Digital Dermatitis (BDD) was made.
BDD is very similar to interdigital dermatitis (footrot) although it does not typically affect the interdigital space. It is often more prevalent in wet and muddy conditions. BDD is very contagious, we treated the group by applying topical antibiotics and ensured none of the other cows in the herd were showing signs of lameness. All affected cows responded very quickly to treatment and were walking around happily in the herd within a week.
This visit was particularly interesting as it is not as common in beef herds as it is in dairy herds and is more common in intensive dairy systems rather than pasture-based systems. In fact, it is one of the most common foot diseases in mature cattle worldwide.
An outbreak like the one in this herd, is typically seen when the causative bacteria are introduced into a herd that haven’t been exposed to the disease before . The only new stock they have bought onto the farm within the last season were service bulls. It is very likely that one or more of these bulls have bought the bacteria onto this farm.
Although it would have been very difficult to work out which bull/s was the culprit, there is an important lesson to learn here – biosecurity is essential and it is very easy for a disease to take hold quickly in a herd with no previous exposure! Feet are an important aspect to check when buying in animals. If you notice that your cattle are lame, especially if they are flicking a foot repeatedly or several cows become lame quickly, like this group – ensure you get them checked out by a vet – early intervention is key for successful outcomes. For further info or advice regarding lameness or biosecurity talk to your vet.