Preventing Crippled and Non-ambulatory Animals
(Updated November 2000)

The emphasis must be on preventing animals from becoming non-ambulatory. Producers are urged to market livestock while they are still in good physical condition. Many animals become non-ambulatory when they become weak and emaciated. Approximately 75% of downer cattle can be prevented with good management. It is strongly recommended to euthanize on the farm extremely weak and emaciated animals.

The 1999 National Market Cow and Bull Audit (Smith et al 2000) indicated that the percentage of downer non-ambulatory dairy cows has increased compared to a similar audit conducted in 1994 (Smith et al 1994). Dairy cow downers in creased from 1.1% of all cows to 1.5%. The audit was conducted at 21 cow slaughter plants. Severe lameness in cull dairy cows has increased from 4.7% of the cows to 14.5%. Indiscriminant selection for milk production and a lack of selection for structural soundness may have contributed to this increase. The 1999 audit showed that the percentage of cull beef cows that arrived at a slaughter plant in a non-ambulatory condition was reduced in 1999. In 1994, 1.0% of the cull beef cows arrived as a downer and in 1999 the percentage was reduced to 0.7% Lameness increased from 2.9% in 1994 to 11.3% in 1999.

Increasing sow mortality is a problem on large swine farms. Y. Koketsu prsented a paper at the March 2000 American Association of Swine Practitioners. Sow condition is declining especially on the largest farms. Average mortality increased from 4.3% in 1993 to 5.8% in 1997. The cause of this increase is probably a combination of genetic selection for production and poor management. Lameness and a combination of acute and chronic conditions have caused this increase. Slaughter plant manager have reported that the condition of sows from some farms has become worse.

Tips on Preventing Crippled Cattle

  1. To prevent calving paralysis, producers should utilize ease of calving information to reduce calving difficulties. First calf heifers should be bred to bulls which sire calves with low birth weights.

  2. Careful use of calf pullers will also help prevent calving paralysis. Inexperienced workers should receive training from a veterinarian or another experienced person.

  3. Metabolic disorders (milk fever, in particular) and inadequate nutrition can be problems for both beef and dairy cattle. Competent nutritional advice and practice can reduce these problems.

  4. Severe mastitis cases in dairy cattle can be reduced by good sanitation and careful teat dipping, however the real key to maintaining udder health is to keep udders clean and dry 24 hours a day. Milking equipment should be serviced regularly.

  5. Install non-slip flooring in areas where cows are milked, housed or handled.

  6. Keep the hooves of dairy cows properly trimmed.Be careful not to injure the foot during trimming.

  7. Consult with a nutritionist to avoid damage to feet caused by nutritional factors which can cause rumen acidosis. In dairy cattle excessive grain feeding to increase milk production may reduce the cow's productive life by increasing laminitis.

  8. Breed Cattle with structurally sound feet and legs.

  9. In dairy cattle prevent laminitis lameness by feeding adequate roughages and providing dairy cattle with a dry comfortable environment.

  10. Growing dairy heifers too fast may increase lameness.

Tips on Preventing Crippled Calves

  1. All newborn calves should receive colostrum soon after birth to establish immunity to illnesses encountered in movement and shipping. Feeding colostrum will reduce death losses.

  2. Calves should not be sent to a livestock market, a calf raising facility, or a packing plant until they are able to walk and stand without assistance from a person. The hair coat should be dry. The navel should be properly treated and dry (two to three days after birth).

  3. Calves must be carried, transported and handled with the utmost care. Avoid transporting and loading calves multiple times after leaving the dairy farm.

Tips on Preventing Crippled Pigs and Sows

There are many causes of downed pigs. Producers need to review the type of downers seen on their farms with their herd veterinarian and discuss prevention programs. The downer condition may develop under a variety of housing and management systems and occur at any stage of production.

The four main areas of prevention management include nutrition, disease, environment and genetics:

  1. Proper nutrition for all stages of production, especially young, lactating females is important in prevention of downed pigs. Diets should be reviewed with nutritional advisors at least once a year.

  2. Many infectious agents may cause joint infections that lead to downed pigs. An accurate diagnosis needs to be made and appropriate prevention steps implemented.

  3. Producers need to evaluate the effect of their flooring on predisposing pigs to traumatic and stress-induced injuries.

  4. Genetic selection of sound breeding stock is important in the prevention of feet and leg problems that predispose to downers. Watch for breeding stock with weak hindquarters that may have a tendency to spraddle leg or "do the splits". Many downed pigs are caused by PSS (Porcine Stress Syndrome).
    This is the result of a genetic defect that may cause prostration and sudden death. Many of these pigs can recover if left alone and cooled carefully by wetting the floor around the pig. Applying cold water directly to a "stressed" pig may kill it. Genetic testing can be used to detect carriers of the PSS gene.

  5. Grow and develop replacement gilts carefully. Rushing gilts into breeding production too quickly may predispose them to lameness and other problems.

  6. Maintain sows in good body condition. Thin or emmaciated sows are more likely to become non-ambulatory.

  7. Prevent lesions on a sow's shoulders by using proper flooring, and maintain her body condition. Shoulder lesions are also a food safety issue because bacteria may enter the lesion and cause abscesses in other parts of the sow's body.
The National Pork Producers Council's position on swine handling is that crippled swine unable to walk, or sick swine that will not recover should be humanely euthanized on the farm and not transported to market. Swine that do become injured in transit should be handled in a humane manner, and depending on condition, be either immediately euthanized or transported as quickly as possible to slaughter. Euthanasia should be done according to the guidelines of the National Pork Producer's Council and the American Association of Swine Practitioners.

Preventing Bloodsplash (Bloodspots)

Recommended Handling of Disabled or Crippled Livestock

Emergency Slaughter For Injured Animals

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