Herd of cows in the pasture at dawn
Photo: Karin Jähne / Shotshop / imago images
The health of dairy cows is poor on some farms in Germany.
This is the result of a study by the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover.
Accordingly, a good 40 percent of the animals in the east of Germany are lame.
Every second to third cow is affected here, the researchers working with Martina Hoedemaker write in their report.
In northern and southern Germany it was around 23 percent each.
Overall, however, many cases occurred in all three regions of the study.
The result shows that the area of the limb health of cows is a major challenge for farm animal husbandry, according to the researchers.
The lameness is mostly due to claw disease and the length of time that elapses between the onset of these diseases and treatment.
Such diseases limit cows' freedom of movement and usually cause them long-lasting pain.
It was noticeable that there were some farms that did not have lame cows, while on some farms a large number of animals were affected.
Both small and large farms had lame animals.
Interviews with farmers showed that the majority of farmers were satisfied with the health of their animals and may not have noticed the restriction.
The veterinarians therefore see a great need for action.
In some cases, there is an animal welfare problem if the keepers do not ensure that the cows are treated appropriately, it is said.
The researchers recommend introducing training courses for livestock farmers and employees on farms in the future, in which they can learn to recognize lame cows.
The problem has been known for a long time in cow husbandry.
On average, around 25 percent of all cows suffer from it, earlier studies had shown.
The causes of the hoof diseases also include poor housing conditions - for example, unsanitary or narrow stalls, unsuitable floors with crevices or the animals lying around for too short a period.
This was also shown in the study: East German farmers who kept their animals on pasture only had a little more than five percent lame cows.
In the case of stables, however, it was over 40 percent.
The soft earth on the pasture has a positive effect on dairy cow health.
The researchers therefore recommend that the animals move around regularly outdoors.
There were also deficiencies in feeding.
The silage, the so-called silage, often did not have the desired quality.
This feed, preserved by lactic acid fermentation, is specially produced for ruminants and stored on the farms.
But every third yard showed signs of spoilage.
This must be improved.
The researchers also found deficiencies in the composition of the feed.
39 percent of the farms in the south gave the animals feed with a lower energy content than recommended during periods in which they were not milked.
Largest study on dairy cow health to date
For the study funded by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the researchers examined 186,000 cattle from 765 dairy farms over a period of three years and interviewed the cattle farmers.
Many indicators of cattle health were recorded, for example infectious diseases, udder or metabolic health or feedings.
The farms were in the north region in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, in the east region in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt and in the south region in Bavaria.
In addition to the scientists from Hanover, experts from the Free University of Berlin and the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich were also involved.
"Overall, there were many well-managed farms, but unfortunately also a considerable proportion of farms in which the various aspects of good agricultural practice were not observed, with consequences for animal health," the researchers write.
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