Research investigating necrotic tail tips in dairy cows resulting in necrotic tissues is scarce. However, there is evidence that in dairy cattle tail tip necroses exist with high prevalence. In piglets, the latest research described tail and ear necroses not because of tail and ear biting only, but because of swine inflammation and necrosis syndrome (SINS). Besides tails and ears, SINS includes inflammation of claws, heels, and teats. In cattle, tail tip necroses are described mainly in fattening bulls. As known so far, these findings are often discussed related to slatted flooring, intensive housing systems and management strategies. However, an association with subacute rumen acidosis and laminitis is described.
In order to investigate what kind of and how often tail tip alterations appear in dairy cattle, data of 87 German Holstein dairy cows were collected over a period of 12 months. All cows were evaluated for tail tip alterations, body condition score (BCS), and locomotion score (LMS) every two weeks. In addition, milk yield data resulting from performance testing were included. Thermographic images of the tails were taken once. Firstly, all kind of tail tip alterations were described and collected. After 6 months, we categorized the observed alterations and developed a tail scoring system. The scoring for each specified trait (tail tip, tail ring) ranged from 0 to 4.
The overall prevalence for tail alterations was 94%. Especially tail tip alterations had a constantly high prevalence of 56%. Cows affected by an increased average tail tip score, showed higher locomotion scores compared to others (P = 0.02). The prevalence of ring-like tail alterations increased from first to second lactation cows from 9 to 46%. Regarding the BCS, lighter cows showed higher scores due to ring-like alterations than heavier cows (P = 0.054). The most often occurring anomalies of the tail were sports or scurf (21.6%), followed by verruca-like mass (10.2%), swelling (8.4%), and thinning (4.3%).
The results and especially the scoring system can serve as a template for further studies considering larger samples sizes, to investigate prevalence for tail necroses and other tail anomalies in different herds and management systems. It was hypothesized, that an inflammatory condition in dairy cows showing up in altered/necrotic tail tips or rings exists, which is in relationship with claw disorders indicated by lameness. If so, the tail score of a cow could be used as health indicator to evaluate the health status in dairy production systems.