Dairy Herd at Morris.

2016-17 Rapid Ag: Evaluating the Relationship Between Hyperketonemia and Lameness in MN Dairy Herds

April 1, 2016

Principal Leader

Gerald Cramer


Department of Veterinary Population Medicine

Funding Awarded

  • 2016 Fiscal Year: $83,228
  • 2017 Fiscal Year: $83,227

The Problem

Lameness impacts how a cow rests, how she eats, her ability to socialize, and decreases her productivity (Gomez and Cook, 2010; Bicalho et al., 2008; Cramer et al., 2009b). Recent prevalence estimates for US freestall herds have ranged from 10-55% (von Keyserlingk et al., 2012; Hoffman et al., 2013). A prevalence estimate from 50 Minnesota freestall herds in 2006 was 26.1%, which was 3x greater than the estimates by herd managers (Espejo et al., 2006). More recently, data collected from 11 Minnesota herds in the summer of 2014 by members of our team showed a lameness prevalence of 21%. The high prevalence of lameness in dairy herds in the United States and Minnesota represents an unsustainable animal welfare issue (Shearer et al., 2013; O’Callaghan, 2002).


Lameness has a large impact on both industry economics and cow welfare. There is a need for knowledge of the causative factors of lameness and the development of a greater understanding of the multi-factorial nature of the disease. An investigation of this must include the effect of high-risk periods on lameness/lesions. One high risk period for cows is the transition period, from 3 weeks prepartum to 3 weeks postpartum.

Recently, it has been shown that the behavior and physical properties of cows during the transition period influence the risk of lameness in the next lactation (Proudfoot et al., 2010; Machado et al., 2011). More specifically, body condition score (BCS) and the thickness of the digital cushion (DCT) have been identified as risk factors for lameness. Studies conducted in the UK have shown that a decrease in BCS, or a low BCS, increases the risk of lameness (Lim et al. 2015; Randall et al., 2015; Green et al., 2014). A single herd study in New York has shown that there is an association between the DCT and lameness (Machado et al., 2011; Bicalho et al., 2009). Based on these studies, we hypothesize that the duration and extent of fat mobilization a cow experiences during the start of her lactation, and the resulting loss of body and digital cushion fat, can influence lameness.

It is well know that hyperketonemia, the disease process that occurs during excessive fat mobilization during early lactation, has significant short-term and long-term effects on cow productivity (McArt et al., 2013, 2015). Recently, a relationship between hyperketonemia and producer recorded lameness has been found in Europe (Berge and Vertenten, 2014; Suthar et al., 2013). However, it is known that dairy farm personnel underestimate the level of lameness in their herds (Wells et al., 1993; Espejo et al., 2006). The use of producer recorded lameness data in research projects can introduce a bias that can be avoided by using hoof trimming records or frequent locomotion scoring.

To determine the role hyperketonemia plays in the development of lameness there is a need for a prospective study in multiple herds. This research should use a sensitive cow-side measure to determine hyperketonemia (Iwersen et al., 2009). This is the most appropriate measure of fat mobilization as no reliable method exists to measure DCT and BCS accurately in multiple herds. Furthermore, this study should use both lameness scores and hoof trimming records as an outcome measure. The use of data from hoof trimming records, in addition to locomotion scores, allows for a more targeted approach to managing risk factors and will allow for more specific herd level recommendations (Cramer et al., 2009a; Holzhauer et al., 2008).

These farm specific control programs should be participatory and team-based. Recent work indicates that when farmers develop their own action plans with the support of facilitators there is improved compliance and sustainability (Whay et al., 2012; Main et al., 2012; Beekhuis-Gibbon et al., 2011).


  1. Determine the relationship between beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) status of cows post-calving and hoof lesions and lameness in the first 100-150 days in milk. Hypothesis: Cows with BHB levels above 1.1 mmol/l will be at a higher risk of hoof lesions/lameness in the first 100-150 days in milk.
  2. At a pilot level, evaluate the association between herd level BHB status and hoof lesions/lameness incidence, adjusting for various confounding factors. Specific confounders of interest are hoof trimming technique and standing time. Hypothesis: A higher herd level BHB status will be associated with a higher herd level hoof lesion/lameness incidence even when accounting for the relationship between lameness, hoof trimming technique, and standing time.

Gerald Cramer works with Dairy Cows at the Research and Outreach Center in Morris Minnesota. His work on lameness in dairy cows is important for industry stability in the state.