Changes in the soft-tissue thickness of the claw sole in Holstein heifers around calving

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Claw horn disruption lesions are a common cause of lameness in dairy cattle. It is commonly agreed that they develop due to excessive pressure from the distal phalanx on the horn-producing tissue in the sole. The distal phalanx is supported by the suspensory apparatus, a large proportion of which is made up of connective tissue. It has been hypothesized that increased laxity of the connective tissue due to hormonal changes around calving may lead to decreased support of the distal phalanx, resulting in a sinking of the bone and increased pressure on the horn-producing tissue. In this longitudinal study, our first objective was to determine whether the thickness of the soft tissue related to the claw sole (the combined depth of the digital cushion and corium; soft-tissue thickness, STT) in the weight-bearing hind claws of live heifers changed around calving (the period from approximately 3 wk before calving to 2 wk after calving). Our second objective was to evaluate the relationship between the body condition score (BCS) of recruited heifers and the STT estimates we obtained. We measured STT (defined as the distance between the distal phalanx and the sole horn) in the apex and the posterior part of the sole of the hind claws of 34 Holstein heifers 4 times over 3 to 4 wk around calving. We determined STT by ultrasonographic measurements through the sole horn on weight-bearing claws. The overall mean STT at site 1 was 3.3 mm [minimum–maximum (min–max): 1.8 to 5.2 mm], and the mean at site 2 was 3.7 mm (min–max: 2.2 to 5.8). The overall mean STT was thickest in the first examination before calving [site 1: 3.4 mm (min–max: 1.9 to 4.7); site 2: 4.1 mm (min–max: 2.7 to 5.8)] and thinnest at site 1 in the second examination after calving (3.2 mm, min–max: 1.8 to 5.2) and at site 2 at the first examination after calving (3.5 mm, min–max: 2.2 to 5.0). We observed an average reduction in STT of −0.2 mm (min–max: 0.8 to −0.9 mm) at site 1 during the study period, but we did not observe this reduction in all animals. At site 2, we found an average reduction in STT of −0.6 mm (min–max: 0.8 to −1.3 mm) from 10 d before calving to 5 d after calving, corresponding to a decrease of approximately 15% (min–max: 0 to 31%). We suggest that this reduction was caused by a rotation of the distal phalanx toward the posterior part of the sole horn in the weeks around calving. During the same period, heifer BCS decreased between 0.25 and 0.5 increments in the BCS scale, but we found no correlation between BCS and STT. However, the heifers experienced many changes related to management, feeding, and time budget during the study period, and the rotation of the distal phalanx and reduction of the STT might be explained not only by calving but also by other factors that affect heifers and their claws during the transition period.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)4837-4846
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2021

    Research areas

  • calving, dairy heifer, digital cushion, ultrasound

ID: 257876553