Project code: D-32-06

Duration 4 years – commencing May 2006

Team and Leader Lorna Baird; Supervisors: Drs Niamh O’Connell and Maurice McCoy

Organisations Involved ARINI, VSD, Queens University Belfast

Background and Summary

Lameness is a significant financial drain on the Northern Ireland dairy industry, costing producers approximately £10m per year (£2000 per herd).  This research aims to get a better understanding of the relationship between lameness and both genetic and management factors.  

Three main research studies are proposed:

(1)     Lameness often develops in dairy cows when they are under greatest metabolic stress in early lactation.  A key factor contributing to lameness problems may be loss of body condition, leading to a depletion of fat levels within the hoof.  This part of the projects aims to conclusively demonstrate this relationship by investigating lameness levels and internal hoof fats in culled dairy cows of a range of body condition scores.

(2)     Fat levels and fat composition within bovine hooves may also vary according to nutritional factors, particularly in relation to fat characteristics of diets being offered.  The human health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids are being increasingly publicised, and it is likely that these will be incorporated into the diets of dairy cows to a greater extent in the future.  This part of the study will assess the effects of increased levels of linseed oil inclusion in the diet of beef cattle on lameness levels and internal hoof fat characteristics.

(3)     Producers are increasingly incorporating non-Holstein genetics into the make-up of dairy herds for a number of reasons, particularly to promote improved health.  However, much of the evidence that alternative breeds improve hoof health characteristics is anecdotal.  A large dataset is available with hoof health measurements of Norwegian and Holstein dairy cows on both high and low input systems over a number of lactations.  This dataset will be manipulated to provide conclusive answers as to the effect of alternative breeds on lameness levels.
The research work described above offers a unique opportunity to increase fundamental knowledge of factors leading to the development of lameness, and will be carried out over a 4-year period as a (part-time) PhD project.

The objectives of the proposed study are:

1.    To assess the effect of body condition and dietary fat inclusion on internal hoof fat and lameness in cattle
2.    To assess the effects of breed and management system on development of hoof health problems

Proposed programme:

1.    Retrieve hooves from 40 culled dairy cows of different BCS over a 2-year period and examine internal and external structures
2.    Assess solar lesions and dissect hooves of 40 beef cattle reared on one of four different levels of dietary linseed oil inclusion
3.    Manipulate hoof health data from Norwegian and Holstein dairy cows on high and low input systems


Year 1    Commence data manipulation of breed comparison study, and dissection work of hooves from 40 beef cattle

Year 2    Retrieve and dissect 40 hooves from culled cows.  Complete dissection work of hooves from 40 beef cattle

Year 3    Complete dissection work of hooves from 40 culled cows

Year 4    Complete all analysis and produce scientific papers

1.    Press releases – April 2007, 2008, 2009
2.    3 scientific papers and 3 non-refereed publications by April 2009
3.    Final report to AgriSearch 2009, plus annual reports


(a)    A clearer vision of factors influencing lameness and associated problems in Northern Ireland dairy herds
(b)    Creating a ‘welfare-friendly’ image within the dairy industry by funding dedicated welfare research