In cattle, lameness has been identified as a major welfare concern and cause of production and economic losses1,2; therefore, gait analysis has become an important area of research interest. Lameness can be difficult to identify and quantify in cattle.3,4 Results of 1 study4 indicate that only 25% of clinically lame cattle identified by trained lameness experts were detected by means of subjective evaluation by nontrained personnel. Subjective gait analysis is generally accomplished by use of a numeric rating or visual analog score,5 and the gait of each animal is assigned a score. Subjective gait analysis requires individuals to invest in training to become competent in evaluating lameness in cattle.6 Additionally, as the median size of cattle herds increases, daily monitoring of individual cattle for lameness is increasingly time-consuming and costly.6
Studies7–11 conducted to assess the association between subjective lameness scoring systems and objective measures of gait abnormalities in cattle have yielded variable results. In 1 study,7 a numeric lameness rating system correctly classified 35 of 38 (92%) cattle that were either clinically normal or had sole lesions.7 Results of another study8 that evaluated 15 periparturient primiparous cows for 4 months indicated that known hoof injuries contributed only 48% to the variance in subjective gait scores. Investigators of a study9 conducted to elucidate how observers perceive lameness and assign gait scores to cattle concluded that there was no apparent correlation between subjective and objective lameness indicators. However, VLSs are positively associated with increasing severity of lameness on the basis of assessment of pressure sensor and serum biomarker measurements.11 The extent of agreement for gait scores between observers, especially if those observers have different levels of experience, varies from 37% to 68%.10 This interobserver variability suggests that the use of subjective lameness scoring systems for evaluation of lameness in cattle needs to be interpreted with caution.
Because of the challenges associated with subjective lameness evaluation in cattle, research has focused on the development of more objective and quantitative measures for gait analysis. Objective gait analysis techniques condense data into spatial or temporal variables.6 Kinetics is the study of forces involved in motion12 and, when applied to the study of the gait of cattle, generally involves pressure mat sensors or force plate analysis.5 The use of a pressure mat sensor system can detect alterations in weight distribution and gait in cattle.11,13 Kinematics is the study of motion aside from mass and force. It evaluates the changes in body position over time12 and involves assessment of video recordings with motion analysis software. In lame cattle, force plate analysis has been used to assess weight shifting (ie, altered vertical ground forces), and kinematic analysis has been used to detect alterations in horizontal acceleratory and deceleratory forces.14 Results of a study15 conducted to evaluate how the weight distribution of dairy cows is affected by the extent of udder fill and advanced pregnancy suggest that changes in distribution of weight among limbs may be a more sensitive measure of lameness than visual gait scoring. Although an automated, real-time gait analysis system that included a pressure mat has been used to analyze the gait of dairy cows in commercial settings,6,16,17,a information regarding the normal variation in gait among individual animals is limited because most research has focused on detection of lame cattle. Understanding variations in the gait of nonlame cattle is necessary to better understand the kinetic and kinematic alterations of lame cattle and aid in the development and implementation of lameness detection methods that can be used in field settings.
In addition to gait analysis, other methods that can aid in the detection of lameness and pain in cattle in the field include measurement of joint circumference and pressure algometry. Joints often become swollen and inflamed in response to trauma or arthritis. A change in joint circumference can be an indicator of musculoskeletal disease, which may result in lameness. Because cattle frequently have a restrained response to pain or distress (ie, are stoic), novel methods such as pressure algometry have been developed to assess the severity of pain in those animals.3 During pressure algometry, a known quantifiable pressure is applied to the area of interest and the mechanical nociception threshold is measured.18 Investigators of studies19,20 conducted to evaluate the validity and reliability of pressure algometers concluded that, with proper training, algometer operators can consistently apply force to the area of interest and obtain reliable measures of the pressure pain threshold in healthy humans. The pressure pain threshold is the minimum transition point at which applied pressure is sensed as pain.20 Algometry has been used to assess the pressure pain threshold in sheep,21 horses,22–24 and cattle.8,25,26
Research regarding the assessment of locomotion in young calves is lacking, and to our knowledge, no studies have been conducted to quantify variation in gait variables among healthy calves. The objectives of the study reported here were to describe the variation in gait among healthy 6- to 8-week-old Holstein calves by the use of pressure mat sensors, direct pressure algometry, and serial measurement of joint circumference. We hypothesized that the use of those biometric tools would be useful for serial assessment of locomotion in young calves.
Kilogram • force
Visual lameness score
Bahr C, Leroy T, Song Xiang Yu, et al. Automatic detection of lameness in dairy cattle by vision analysis of cow's gait. Agricultural and biosystems engineering for a sustainable world (abstr), in Proceedings. Int Conf Agric Eng 2008;OP-2025.
Excede, Pfizer Animal Health, New York, NY.
Medicated Calf Grower B-68, Farmers CO-OP Association, Manhattan, Kan.
Mark-10 MESURLite USB/RS232, Wagner Instruments, Greenwich, Conn.
Walkway Pressure Mapping System, Tekscan Inc, South Boston, Mass.
JMP, version 5.1.2, SAS Institute Inc, Cary, NC.
GLIMMIX, SAS, version 9.1, SAS Institute Inc, Cary, NC.
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