Saturday, December 2, 2023

Pain relief a game-changer for lameness

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Newly lame cows were given one of four different treatment regimes and assessed to identify their cure rates.
A recent study of lame cows showed a drastic improvement in cure rates when adding pain relief on top of the standard treatments.
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Byline: Samantha Tennent and Dan Cragg

Lameness poses a persistent challenge in dairy farming, impacting not only cow health and wellbeing but also farm productivity. 

Traditionally, the approach to addressing lameness involves corrective trimming of the affected area. For moderate to severe cases, applying a hoof block to the opposite claw is common practice. 

Strangely, though, the use of pain relief is often overlooked, even though lameness is undeniably a painful issue for cows.

In fact, lameness ranks among the most agonising conditions experienced by dairy cows. You can easily spot a lame cow as it limps down the track, experiences an immediate drop in milk production, rapidly loses body condition, and faces fertility issues. 

The farmer’s primary goal should be to accelerate the recovery of these cows, enabling them to return to normal and regain their productivity. Doing so not only benefits the farm, it also minimises the welfare concerns for these cows.

A recent study demonstrates the effectiveness of different treatments for lame cows, showing a drastic improvement in cure rates when adding pain relief on top of the standard treatments. 

Newly lame cows were given one of four different treatment regimes and assessed to identify their cure rates 35 days after the initial treatment.

When given a corrective trim only, 25% were cured. Of those given a corrective trim and hoof block, 36% were cured. Twenty-nine percent were cured when a corrective trim and three days of pain relief were administered, and  56% were cured when a corrective trim, hoof block and three days of pain relief were applied.

The most successful treatment by a large margin was adding a hoof block and three days of pain relief on top of corrective trimming. And compared to corrective trimming alone, it more than doubles the cure rate.

When the treatment period shortens, the cow will improve her productivity, condition and fertility faster, and be more profitable in the long run. This is particularly important with lame cows early in the season or during mating. 

There is also growing evidence that treating heifers and young cows with pain relief at calving, and when lameness is identified, reduces lameness in dairy herds. 

And as consumer awareness regarding the production of dairy products continues to grow, including pain relief in lameness management not only enhances cow welfare but also aligns with the ethical standards expected by consumers.

The best way to incorporate pain relief into a farm practice is to begin by consulting a veterinarian for guidance on selecting the most appropriate pain relief options for the cows and to aid in decision-making for farm staff.

Ensure that your team members receive thorough training in pain relief administration, understand when and how to use it, and can proficiently identify signs of lameness in cows.

Maintain up-to-date records to monitor pain relief usage and the management of lame cows. Utilise this information to fine-tune your pain management protocols. Continuously assess and adapt pain relief procedures to ensure they remain effective and that they comply with the latest industry standards.

Lameness has serious negative consequences on animal wellbeing and has the potential to reduce the overall lifetime performance of dairy cows due to milk production loss and culling.

By embracing pain relief as a standard practice, we can enhance animal welfare, boost farm productivity, and meet the expectations of a discerning consumer base.

When next you’re treating lame cows, consider using some pain relief to get better and faster cure rates. This is definitely going to become the normal treatment regime over time. Have a yarn to your vet about which type of pain relief is best for your farm system.

* Tennent is general manager of WelFarm and Cragg is a VetSouth veterinarian.

This article first appeared in the October edition of our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

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