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Gait assessment of dairy cattle Flower, Frances Claire

Abstract

Hoof and leg pathologies are important to the welfare of dairy cows and the profitability of farms; however, to date researchers have had little success in detecting cows with hoof pathologies using current gait analysis methods which are poorly defined and un-validated. The first aim of my thesis was to describe the walking gait profile of cows with no visible hoof pathologies, compare this with profiles of cows with sole haemorrhages, and cows with sole ulcers, and determine which gait measures were valid and reliable indicators of hoof pathologies. The second aim of my thesis was to examine how udder size and flooring surface influenced the way cows walk, and how these effects varied for cows with different hoof pathologies. Analyses of cow gait, using kinematic techniques and subjective gait assessment, showed distinct differences among cows with no visible hoof pathologies compared to those with painful sole ulcers. Cows with sole ulcers probably walked differently to reduce loading on the affected leg. The gait pattern of cows before and after milking was also different; cows had longer strides and walked more quickly after milking. These results suggest that the most suitable time to conduct on-farm assessments of dairy cattle gait is after milking. Rubber flooring improved the gait of both cows with and without sole ulcers. Lame cattle showed the greatest improvement, suggesting that rubber flooring provided a more secure and comfortable surface for cows to walk on. This research provides novel contributions to the field of dairy cattle lameness; this research was the first study to quantify and validate the gait of cows with and without hoof pathologies using computer-aided kinematic techniques and was also the first to explicitly define, validate, and test the reliability of an overall gait score and individual behavioural gait attributes. Although there is still much work to be done to better understand how hoof and leg pathologies affect cows, the research described here provides insight into how dairy cows with and without hoof pathologies walk and how certain variables such as milking and flooring influence cow walking patterns.

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