Organic dairy cows at Morris.

2018-19 Rapid Ag: The relationship between early lactation hoof lesions and behavior, inflammatory mediators, and reproductive performance in dairy cows

April 7, 2017

Principle Leader

Dr. Rafael Bisinotto


Department of Veterinary Population Medicine

Funding Awarded

  • March 2017-Fiscal Year 2018: $134,847
  • Fiscal Year 2019: $44,914

The Problem

Optimal productive efficiency in dairy herds relies heavily on adequate animal health and reproductive performance (1,2). Lameness represents a major impediment to the dairy industry worldwide. The average cost per case of lameness ranges between US$120 and 216 depending upon the specific disease associated with the phenotype and are associated with treatments, milk losses, and impaired fertility (3). Considering an average prevalence of 30% and the current size of US dairy herd; the economic burden of lameness approaches US$500 million/year. With regards to reproductive efficiency, dairy cows diagnosed as being lame within 65 days in milk (DIM) are 43% less likely to conceive and almost 3-fold more likely to lose their pregnancies after the first artificial insemination (AI) postpartum compared with healthy herd mates (1).


Evaluation of the association between lameness, animal behavior, and fertility responses has been largely based on postural and gait changes. This methodology provides no information about the impact of specific hoof lesions. Considering the different etiologies of hoof lesions, it is likely that their effects on behavior and fertility have different underlying mechanisms. Moreover, commonly used methods to identify lame cows such as locomotion score, headlock stanchion score, and observation while standing in the milk parlor have poor sensitivity and positive scores are not always associated with visible hoof lesions (4). Although automated monitors have become more accessible and provide an interesting alternative for detection of lameness, studies evaluating changes in behavior and standing/lying patterns use cows already diagnosed as lame instead of following healthy animals as hoof lesions develop (5-7). Finally, the vast majority of research conducted on lameness has focus on comparing lame cows to healthy counterparts (8-11). This approach provides only limited information regarding the development of hoof lesions and the pathophysiological mechanisms altered during the acute stages of the disease. Therefore, a comprehensive assessment of hoof diseases based on description of specific lesions at various stages of lactation is needed to elucidate the mechanisms by which lameness affects behavior, inflammatory status, and specific reproductive parameters in lactating dairy cows.

This study addresses needs for the MN dairy industry in the long- and short-term. It will unveil the biological processes affected during the development of specific hoof lesions and highlight markers that can be used for early diagnosis. These markers can be than implemented in existing and novel field tools such as activity monitors and inline sensors. In addition, understanding the underlying mechanisms involved with development of hoof lesions and how those affect reproductive efficiency will allow researchers to identify potential preventative strategies. This is a two year project during which field sample and data collection will be conducted in year 1 and laboratory assays, data analyses, publication of results and extension delivery will take place in year 2.


The goal of this project is to elucidate the mechanisms by which hoof lesions affect behavior, inflammatory status, and specific reproductive parameters in lactating dairy cows. The specific objectives of this project are to assess the effects of new cases of hoof lesions on:

  1. Behavioral parameters of cows such as lying time, resting bouts, and activity
  2. Expression of inflammatory mediators by peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) and their concentrations in blood
  3. Reproductive parameters such as estrus detection rate, pregnancy per AI (P/AI), risk of pregnancy loss, and time to pregnancy in lactating dairy cows


  1. Santos, J.E.P. et al. Applying nutrition and physiology to improve reproduction in dairy cattle. Soc. Reprod. Fertil. Suppl 67, 387-403 (2010).
  2. Chebel, R.C. & Ribeiro, E.S. Reproductive Systems for North American Dairy Cattle Herds. Vet. Clin. North Am. Food Anim. Pract. 32, 267-284 (2016).
  3. Cha, E. et al. The cost of different types of lameness in dairy cows calculated by dynamic programming. Prev. Vet. Med. 97, 1-8 (2010).
  4. García-Muñoz, A. et al. Evaluation of two methodologies for lameness detection in dairy cows based on postural and gait abnormalities observed during milking and while restrained at headlock stanchions. Prev. Vet. Med. 128, 33-40 (2016).
  5. Beer, G. et al. Use of Extended Characteristics of Locomotion and Feeding Behavior for Automated Identification of Lame Dairy Cows. PLoS One 11 (2016).
  6. Westin, R. et al. Lying times of lactating cows on dairy farms with automatic milking systems and the relation to lameness, leg lesions, and body condition score. J. Dairy Sci. 99, 551-561 (2016).
  7. Nechanitzky, K. et al. Analysis of behavioral changes in dairy cows associated with claw horn lesions. J. Dairy Sci. 99, 2904-2914 (2016).
  8. Abuelo, A. et al. Short communication: Markers of oxidant status and inflammation relative to the development of claw lesions associated with lameness in early lactation cows. J. Dairy Sci. 99, 5640-5648 (2016).
  9. Almeida, P.E. et al. Gene expression profiling of peripheral mononuclear cells in lame dairy cows with foot lesions. Vet. Immunol. Immunopathol. 120, 234-245 (2007).
  10. Almeida, P.E. et al. Depressed DHEA and increased sickness response behaviors in lame dairy cows with inflammatory foot lesions. Domest. Anim. Endocrinol. 34, 89-99 (2008).
  11. Zhang, G. et al. Alterations of Innate Immunity Reactants in Transition Dairy Cows before Clinical Signs of Lameness. Animals (Basel) 5, 717-747 (2015).
  12. Edmonson, A.J. et al. A body condition scoring chart for Holstein dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 72, 68-78 (1989).
  13. Ribeiro, E.S. et al. Low doses of bovine somatotropin enhance conceptus development and fertility inlactating dairy cows. Biol. Reprod. 90, 10 (2014).
  14. Cramer, G. et al. Herd- and cow-level prevalence of foot lesions in Ontario dairy cattle. J. Dairy Sci. 91, 3888-3895 (2008).
  15. Bicalho, R.C. et al. Lameness in dairy cattle: A debilitating disease or a disease of debilitated cattle? A cross-sectional study of lameness prevalence and thickness of the digital cushion. J. Dairy Sci. 92, 3175-3184 (2009).
  16. Livak, K.J. & Schmittgen, T.D. Analysis of relative gene expression data using real-time quantitative PCR and the 2(-Delta Delta C(T)) Method. Methods 25, 402-408 (2001).