Determining the heritable component of dairy cattle foot lesions

J Dairy Sci. 2013 Jan;96(1):605-13. doi: 10.3168/jds.2012-5485. Epub 2012 Oct 11.


Lameness and hoof health affect dairy cows as an animal welfare issue, in decreased milk production, and in premature culling. Selection schemes for dairy cattle focus on sire contribution to milk production, with little consideration of the cow's physical structure or disease probability. On 3 commercial California dairies, 6 phenotypic binary hoof traits that contribute to lameness were recorded: white line disease, sole ulcer, other claw horn lesions, foot rot (interdigital phlegmon), foot warts (digital dermatitis), and other lesions. Monthly lactation records were collected from December 2006 to April 2009 with weekly observations of hoof lesions for lame and dry cows. In addition to hoof lesion information, data on cows (n=5,043) included parentage, birth date, freshening date, lactation number, and date of lameness diagnosis. The prevalence of hoof lesions ranged from a low of 2.2% (foot rot) to a high of 17.1% (foot warts). The farm environment increased the odds ratio depending upon the lesion. Lameness was more common in early lactation and as lactation number increased. Using a threshold model, heritabilities and repeatabilities were estimated for each binary trait. The heritability for risk varied by lesion, with the higher estimates being 0.40 (95% confidence interval: 0.20-0.67) for digital dermatitis and 0.30 (95% confidence interval: 0.08-0.63) for sole ulcer. Including terms to account for cow productivity on either a 305-d mature-equivalent basis or a per-lactation basis had minimal effect on the heritability estimates, suggesting that selection for hoof health is not correlated with response to selection for greater milk production and that improvement could be made for both traits. The genetic component lends support for further genetic studies to identify loci contributing to some of the lesion phenotypes such as foot warts or sole ulcers, 2 of the top 3 causes of lameness in dairy cattle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • California / epidemiology
  • Cattle / genetics
  • Cattle Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cattle Diseases / genetics*
  • Digital Dermatitis / genetics
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Hoof and Claw / anatomy & histology
  • Lactation
  • Lameness, Animal / epidemiology
  • Lameness, Animal / genetics*