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Producer-funded research explores hairy heel wart

Beef feedlot in North Platt-Neb_AndrewLinscott_iStock_Thinkstock-478774626.jpg
Prevention is attainable but it comes with significant management and biosecurity measures.

Iowa beef producers voted to reinstate the 50 cent per head Iowa State Beef Checkoff following a referendum facilitated by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association with collections beginning in March 2017. Beef production research was determined as one of five areas of priority for state checkoff funds. Shortly thereafter, a committee of Iowa Beef Industry Council board members and industry representatives assembled to review research proposal submissions, eventually selecting sixteen projects to fund. Iowa beef producers are now able to review and share in the fruits of their investment as manifested by the completion of a digital dermatitis research project facilitated by Dr. Terry Engelken, DVM, MS, Vet Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine.

Digital dermatitis (DD) is on the way to becoming the number one cause of lameness in U.S. feedlot cattle and a substantial problem for feedlot producers. The common name for DD is hairy heel wart. Digital refers to the claw and dermatitis means inflammation of the skin. Simply put, there may be overlong hairs surrounding circular or oval lesions above the coronary hoof band on the back side of the foot.

The lesions are most common on the back side of the feet and are very tender to touch. Consequently, animals will walk on their toes, and the heel becomes abnormally long. If the lesion is on the front of the foot, animals respond by altering their weight bearing, which results in a long toe and greater wear on the heel.

Common symptoms of DD include lameness in heavy cattle close to marketing and an unpleasant hoof odor. However, not all animals with DD will exhibit lameness, and they rarely develop swelling of the foot.  Production losses involve the cost of prevention or treatment, decreased average daily gain, increased days on feed and reduced profitability.

Despite much research, the exact organisms responsible for DD are unknown, which complicates development of a vaccine and leaves little course other than treatment. Treatment for an animal with advanced lesions involves topical treatments and incorporating a footbath for periodic use can help to prevent DD. Prevention is attainable but it comes with significant management and biosecurity measures.

Listening to the needs of Iowa beef producers and aligning the state beef checkoff with university and extension agents poised on pursuing relevant, practical production research is paramount. The Iowa State Beef Checkoff is committed to investing in research that supports the Checkoff’s mission and more importantly, arming producers with up-to-date research to make well-informed decisions that supports the future of Iowa’s beef business.

Iowa State University Extension and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association will host on June 28 in Sioux Center, Iowa, a Hairy Heel Wart and Lameness Symposium to tackle these key issues for feedlot operators. To register, fill out this online form. There is no cost to attend the event and livestream viewing is available.


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