Michael Cafferty

An Investigation into Lameness Development in Dairy Cattle.

Supervisors: John Hession and Leo Creedon

Lameness in dairy cattle has become an animal welfare problem which is having a direct impact on the financial viability of dairy farms today. A number of studies have reported that the clinical cost per lameness case in a dairy herd can range from between $250 and $650. Reports indicate that as many as 60% of dairy cows exhibit symptoms of lameness at least once a year. As well as the financial implications, there are also animal welfare issues which need to be considered as the affected animal will suffer from obvious discomfort and in 2% of all cases will be prematurely culled. Lameness can contribute to reduced milk yields, fertility problems and is also the third most common reason for premature termination of dairy cows.

Dairy farming today has become very production intensive. In comparison to dairy farming a hundred years ago, both the animals’ size and milk yield have increased significantly, and the age of first calving has reduced considerably. Much of the research undertaken so far has focused on claw health and excessive wear on the claw from unnatural flooring surfaces (such as the surface on public roads, holding areas and in seasonal cattle housing).

This project is focusing on two key areas:

1)     A comparison between walking on hard and soft surfaces.

This part of the project will assess fatigue life of bone from cyclic loading and determine whether or not there is a difference between cyclic loading on hard and soft surfaces. Bovine bones will be excised and mounted in a materials testing machine, and will then undergo different loading regimes which are intended to mimic walking on hard and soft surfaces.

2)     A comparison between inherited posture traits.

The second part of the project will focus on the knee joint in the cow. There are a number of posture traits which have been flagged as potential risk factors for lameness development. So far much of the research in this area has focused on the effect such postures have on the hooves. However, the correlation between lameness symptoms and hoof damage varies between animals. The aim of this part of the research is to investigate other potential causes of pain  and see if these problem posture traits could be causing human like joint pathologies in dairy cows.

This research may help determine whether or not these factors are having a statistically significant influence on the incidences of lameness in dairy cattle and could lead to more effective treatment and preventative measures being developed.

Publications/Conferences Attended:

28th January 2011 – The Seventeenth Annual Conference of the Section of Bioengineering of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland.

25th November  2011 – The Twelfth Annual Multidisciplinary Research Conference at Sligo General Hospital.

27th January 2012 – The Eighteenth Annual Conference of the Section of Bioengineering of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland.

18th January 2013 – The Nineteenth Annual Conference of the Section of Bioengineering of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland.

2019/20 Fulltime Prospectus IT Sligo