Researchers at Cornell University have found an association between body condition score and lameness, which means it is more important than ever to advise your clients on proper body condition — especially in early lactation.

In a recent study, reported at the Cornell Nutrition Conference in October, researchers found a significant association between the prevalence of sole ulcers and white-line disease in dairy cows and the thickness of the digital cushions in the cows’ hooves.

“Cows in the upper quartile of digital cushion thickness had an adjusted prevalence of lameness that was 15 percentage points lower than the lower quartile,” researchers said.

And, body condition scores are positively associated with digital cushion thickness.

“The better condition (cows) are in, the more digital cushion they will have,” explains Rodrigo Bicalho, veterinary researcher at Cornell University.

Conversely, cows with low body condition have thinner digital cushions, which sets them up for lameness problems.

“If you look at your hand, the cushion in the palm of your hand is equivalent to the cushion that cows have in their foot inside the claw,” he told Dairy Herd Management. “We also have it on the bottom of our feet.”

Early lactation is a critical time period. Researchers have found that thinning of the digital cushion is most prominent during the 120-day window after calving. This is when body fat reserves are summoned by the cow to make milk. Loss in thickness of the digital cushion seems to bottom out around 120 days in milk, Bicalho says, “and after that it starts to recover.”

Read Bicalho’s paper from the Cornell Nutrition Conference.