Lameness in dairy cows is a multifactorial and progressive disease with complex interactions between risk factors contributing to its occurrence. Detailed records were obtained from one United Kingdom dairy herd over an 8-yr period. Weekly locomotion scores were used to classify cows as not lame (score 1 to 2), mildly lame (score 3) and severely lame (score 4 to 5). These outcomes were used to investigate the hypothesis that low body condition score (BCS) is associated with an increased risk of lameness in dairy cows. Mixed effect multinomial logistic regression models were used to investigate the association between prior BCS and repeat lameness events during the longitudinal period of the study. Discrete time survival models were used to explore the relationship between prior BCS and first lifetime lameness events. In total, 79,565 cow weeks at risk were obtained for 724 cows. The number of lameness events was 17,114, of which 8,799 were categorized as mildly lame and 8,315 as severely lame. The median BCS was 2.25 (range, 0.75 to 4.25) and the mean body weight (BW) and age at first calving were 619.5 kg (range, 355.6 to 956.4 kg) and 25.8 mo (range, 20.5 to 37.8 mo), respectively. Subsets of the data were used in the discrete time survival models: 333 mild and 211 severe first lifetime lameness events in heifers (first lactation cows), and 81 mild and 49 severe first lifetime lameness events in cows second lactation or greater. Low BCS 3 wk before a repeated lameness event was associated with a significantly increased risk of lameness. Cows with BCS<2 were at greatest risk of mild or severe lameness, and an increased BCS above 2 was associated with a reduced risk of mild or severe lameness. Low BCS 16 or 8 wk before a first mild or severe lifetime lameness event, respectively, also had a positive association with risk of lameness in cows second lactation or greater. This provides evidence to support targeting management toward maintaining BCS to minimize the risk of lameness. Low BW (independent of BCS) and increased age at first calving above 24 mo were also associated with increased long-term risk of repeated lameness events. Overall, the model explained 62 and 60% of the variability for mild and severe lameness, respectively, highlighting the importance of these variables as risk factors and hence where management could be targeted to significantly affect reducing the risk of lameness.
Keywords: age at first calving; body condition score; body weight; dairy cattle; lameness.
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