Lameness is a major cause of suffering in farmed ruminants. However, the prevalence, causes and risk factors for lameness in Norwegian beef cattle are unknown. Internationally studies have scored the locomotion pattern of dairy cows and correlated the score to foot pathology. However, there is only one published study in beef cattle. Understanding lameness in beef cattle is particularly important for the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (NFSA) as the national competent body for animal welfare. The lack of a specific, robust, and repeatable lameness scoring makes the application of policy and policing of legislation open to criticism about a potential lack of objectivity.
Disruptive sensor technology can assess lameness objectively on farms. It is imperfect but provides a standardised repeatable method of assessing lameness which could be employed in all slaughterhouses throughout Norway to assess lameness automatically and consistently throughout Norway. The available technologies are untested in slaughterhouses.
Approximately 10% of adult cows entering the food chain in Norway are slaughtered on farm as emergency slaughter. On farm emergency slaughter (OFES) certification has been investigated and it has been found that lameness has been given as the cause in approximately 50% of the cases by veterinarians in the field. However, the reports of lameness have never been investigated.
This project aims to improve the NFSA’s ability to protect animal welfare and food safety by increasing the knowledge about lameness in beef cattle. To achieve this the project aims to:
1) Estalblish the incidence of lameness in Norwegian beef cattle
2) Identify the incidence of foot lesions in Norwegian beef cattle
3) Identify herd level risk factors for lameness in Norwegian beef cattle
4) Estalblish if sensor technology can be used to identify lame cattle on arrival to a slaughterhouse
5) Identify the pathological lesions seen in cattle which have undergone OFES.
Lameness is recognised as a major cause of suffering in farmed ruminants. Lameness in dairy cows has received considerable attention. The scientific knowledge of lameness in beef cattle is limited. Internationally many studies have investigated the locomotion pattern of dairy cows and tried to allocate repeatable scores to the locomotion patterns seen and correlated these to foot pathology. However, there is only one paper investigating this problem in beef cattle that was published last year. The scale used is different to the one most commonly for dairy cattle, which demonstrates the need for further work in this area. This is particularly important for the Norwegian Food Safety Authority given its roles in animal welfare both on farm, under transport and at the slaughterhouse. The lack of a specific, robust, and repeatable lameness scoring makes the application of policy and policing of legislation with regards to on farm animal welfare and transport of animals open to criticism about a potential lack of objectivity.
Disruptive technology is becoming available to detect lameness objectively. Sensor systems can be used to accurately identify lameness in dairy cows on farm. The systems do not provide perfect correlation with human observers, who have been used as the ‘Gold Standard’. However, they provide a repeatable and objective method of assessing lameness. It is possible that sensor systems could be employed when both loading or unloading animals to provide a ‘real-time’ assessment of lameness.
To summarise the knowledgaps in terms of beef cattle lameness.
We do not know:
1) the incidence or prevalence of lameness, either at slaughter or on farm;
2) the causes of, and risk factors for, lameness in Norwegian beef cattle;
3) the extent to which sensor technology can automate and/or improve the assessment of lameness in beef cattle at a slaughterhouse;
4) the causes of lameness resulting in emergency slaughter because of lameness in beef cattle.