Lameness can be attributed to many factors yet the physical response to favor a limb is likely related to the animal’s pain threshold. The presence of pain is a critical well-being concern, and can have many secondary impacts on the animal’s overall health, production, and functional lifetime. Some examples of secondary impacts known in livestock include: a decline in feed intake or grazing ability, loss of body condition, reduced reproduction rates, or chronic lameness. For some specific examples of these you may also check the article, Hoof-Trimming Improves Reproductive Performance. Identifying lameness and the signs of pain that affect an animal’s well-being becomes a point of misunderstanding between stockmen and the general public due to an individual’s perceived understanding of animal well-being and the needs of the animal.
When assessing animal well-being, one can evaluate the animal’s living environment or the housing facilities (non-animal/resource based measures) or make direct observations of the animal’s condition and behavior (animal-based measures). Animal-based measures are believed to be a better indicator of how the animal is coping within the environment and husbandry system in which it lives. An expert panel was surveyed to determine the most important animal-based measures of well-being for cattle (dairy specifically), pigs, and poultry. Observed lameness was the indicator most frequently identified for cattle and pigs. Currently, lameness and feet/leg soundness problems are among the top reasons for culling sows, cows, and sheep. Other reasons recorded for culling animals may include one of the secondary impacts of lameness, most frequently reproductive problems because they have the greatest impact on the sustainable profitability of the operation. Additionally, lameness should be considered an important animal-based measure of well-being for horses. Since even the untrained eye can detect limps or see an animal struggling on three legs, it is important to consider what the general public perceives when a limping animal is seen in a pasture or farmyard along with the stockman’s perspective.
In the Herdsman’s Mind
A herdsman provides for an animal’s daily needs to promote optimal health and well-being. Strong animal husbandry skills contribute to wholesome animal products in our food supply. When an animal is observed to be lame, the herdsman’s perspective usually focuses on actions for health intervention. An experienced herdsman will go through a rapid decision process to determine the best management practices for treatment and full recovery of the animal.
- Is the animal still eating and behaving normally? (A herdsman should know what normal looks like)
- What is the best way to restrain the animal, so it can be examined more closely?
- Does the veterinarian need to be called or is it a known ailment that can be easily treated?
- What is the best course of treatment, or management practice, to resolve the animal’s aliment?
- Should the animal be isolated in a more comfortable location, or can it be returned to the herd?
- How can the herdsman best monitor the animal during its recovery?
- How can the herdsman record and document this treatment?