Environmental and behavioural factors affecting the prevalence of foot lameness in New Zealand dairy herds - a case-control study

Environmental and behavioural factors affecting the prevalence of foot lameness in New Zealand dairy herds - a case-control study
Peer reviewed


A case-control study of environmental and behavioural factors influencing foot lamehess was undertaken on 62 dairy herds comprising an average of 185 milking cows in Taranaki, New Zealand. Thirty two case herds were identified as having had at least 10 per cent of the cows lame during the milking season in which the herd was studied, and thirty control herds were selected on the basis that no more than 3 per cent of cows in these herds had been lame per year for at least two years immediately prior to investigation. Each herd was visited at both a morning and an afternoon milking, and 58 risk factors were measured between the time the farmer began to assemble the cows for milking and the completion of milking. Comparison of single variables between case and control herds identified 24 which showed differences (p<0.10). These variables were then subjected to stepwise multivariate logistic regression, and statistically significant variables in this analysis were used to create a tentative “path diagram” of possible “causal web” relationships between the various risk factors and the outcome variable, the lameness prevalence level. Information from a review of the published literature was used to include further variables to the 24 into the initial (or null hypothesis) path model. Logistic path analysis was then used to eliminate non-significant paths from the diagram, leaving 19
arrows joining 13 variables in the final path diagram, compared with 33 joining 20 variables in the initial version. The most influential variables in explaining variation between case and control herds were the
average level of maintenance of the track and the degree of patience shown by the farmer in bringing the cows in for milking. Overall, factors associated with the movement of animals to the milking shed explained 40 per cent of the variation (deviance) with regard to the lameness prevalence level. Risk factors associated with characteristics of the milking process explain 24 per cent, and risk factors associated with characteristics of the cows in the herd explain 9.5 per cent. Recommendations are made on management changes which deserve further investigation as ways of reducing lameness problems in dairy herds.

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