With profit margins forecast to rise, cow/calf producers face critical decisions about retaining cows or selling them to capture record high prices, says Heidi Carroll, South Dakota State University livestock stewardship extension associate.
Typical culling rates for beef herds can range from 10-20% depending on the manager's production goals, and 20% of the annual paycheck can come from the value of cull cows, Carroll explains. But often, some cows make the list because of lameness issues.
When these issues arise, Carroll says it's important monitor them – an especially critical practice if producers choose to feed the cows to increase their value before selling them.
Lameness problems can arise for various reasons, but the limping cow will always be seen as a welfare concern, Carroll says.
"Perhaps a cow's conformation was simply poor for genetic reasons which hinder her mobility. Culling cows with poor conformation is important to prevent lameness problems from escalating as she ages.
"Early culling also prevents her from passing on the same problems to her offspring," Carroll notes.
She also suggests to keep good breeding records to monitor conformation problems that could lead to lameness problems and decrease the longevity of cows in the herd.
In feedlots, lame cattle had two tenths pounds less average daily gain than non-lame cattle. These findings from the feedlot should make cow/calf producers think about the impacts of limping cows in the herd when extreme weather changes her maintenance requirements.
Also, the prevalence of lameness in feeder cattle rose from 1.6% to 2.5% after processing at the feedlot, which identifies handling as having an impact on the occurrence of lameness. Calm handling and maintained facilities are the keys to minimizing handling-induced lameness.
Locomotion scoring can help assess management decisions, Carroll says. It also determines if implementing a new mineral supplement, for example, has been effective to improve feet or leg health, or if bedding or flooring is impacting lameness.
Carroll suggests taking an assessment monthly and tracking the herd average to look for trends. Identifying changes in normal locomotion can help detect painful foot problems that can affect production.
Early treatment of lameness will improve cow well-being and may help limit the potential effects on cow production, and subsequently her calf's performance, Carroll adds. Once a subtle change is noticed, quick diagnosis is crucial. Take the following steps:
• Investigate the foot and leg for obvious problems, such as debris, a wound, or foot rot.
• Determine the most appropriate treatment options with a veterinarian.
• Consider the likelihood of recovery and the withdrawal times of any medications chosen for treatment.
If an animal does not show signs of improvement following a veterinarian's recommended treatment time, the decision of either marketing the animal or humanely euthanizing it on the farm must then be discussed, Carroll says.
She suggests that cows that become unable to stand freely or move on their own should not be transported and an approved method of euthanasia should be chosen to stop the animal's suffering.
"If the cow is able to be transported, review withdrawal times of medications used and ensure all withdrawal times are met before marketing the cow. Implementing these best management practices helps guarantee our food supply remains safe, wholesome, and free of residues," she says.