Lameness in beef cattle: establishing a knowledge base


Norman Hayward Fund



Research Period


Area of study



Investigator(s): Karin Mueller, Jay Tunstall

Lameness has received little attention in beef cattle, despite being recognised as of major importance in dairy cattle and sheep. In these two livestock sectors, extremely serious welfare implications include pain, suboptimal food intake, higher risk of being culled, and poor growth and increased mortality in lambs of affected ewes.

The paucity of research concerning beef cattle is such that even basic information, namely prevalence, type of lesions, and effect on the animal, is absent. This deficit in evidence base for veterinarians and producers means control strategies can currently only be based on extrapolation from dairy cattle and sheep knowledge. Emboldening farmers to take action and implement optimum husbandry remains a challenge to welfare goals. Quantifying aspects specifically for beef cattle is essential to provide sound foundations for advice.

This study will investigate lameness in UK beef cattle: how common it is, what causes it in beef animals, its economic impact and farmers’ current management and perceptions of lameness in their herds.
The results will empower producers and veterinarians to substantiate the importance of lameness, and underpin control strategies with cost-benefit figures. With approximately 1.6 million breeding cows and 2.6 million fattening stock, the potential for improving welfare is considerable.

This 3-year project will include both fattening cattle and breeding cows. In year one, extent of lameness is established by locomotion scoring at least 4000 cattle in England and Wales. Data-collection on fertility and calf growth is started in 6-12 breeding herds, continuing into years two and three. In year two, data collection on production parameters in fattening herds will start, continuing into year three. In depth interviews with participants will identify their current management of lameness, and associated rationale.

Fundamental questions addressed will be:

  • Prevalence overall, and patterns according to type, breed, age, management
  • For fattening cattle: Impact on daily live-weight gain, days-to-slaughter, carcass quality
  • For breeding cows: Impact on fertility and pre-weaning calf growth
  • Farmer perceived motivators and barriers to lameness control

The results of the project will be communicated to farmers and veterinarians through a variety of knowledge exchange routes.

Published papers:

Reliability of a beef cattle locomotion scoring system for use in clinical practice 

Lameness in Beef Cattle: UK Farmers' Perceptions, Knowledge, Barriers, and Approaches to Treatment and Control.