Focus on Science: Can development of OC be controlled by specific foal management?

Recent research has shown that the risk of occurrence of OC in young pigs is higher when they are housed on smooth surface than in deep litter and fed restrictedly. When getting up, a leg can slip sideways as a consequence of the smooth surface and/or reduced muscular strength.

Foals are like young pigs in the sense that they grow fast and that their cartilage during development is dependent on the supply of nutrients, which can be damaged due to trauma. Important risk factors for the development of OC are genetic disposition, fast growth, trauma, and nutritional disbalans. But the relation between these factors is not completely clear yet. Research has shown that biomechanical damage of the blood supply to the cartilage  in young pigs and foals play an important role in the pathogenesis of OC.

The fact that you pigs may develop OC as a consequence of (regularly) slipping while getting up during their growth phase, was reason to investigate whether this could also be the case in foals. The researchers have followed a group of 48 (KWPN) foals on five farms for half a year, when they were 6 tot 12 months of age. It is not clear whether the foals were all weaned at the start of the study, but they probably were. The farms differed in management factors such as housing and possibility to exercise.  The foals were monitored by video during 3 to 4 hours time periods, with a maximum of in total 24 hours per group. The limb-sliding percentage (number of times a leg or legs slid during standing up, relative to the total number of times standing up) was determined from the video material, as well as the way the foal slid (for example the front and/or back leg(s)).

On average the foals slid with one or more legs in 29% of the times they were getting up. Dit result was based on on average 46 time of standing up per foal. In 43% of the cases there was a specific reason for the foal to get up. For example when another foal approached, which could result in the foal wanting to follow the passing foal, just being disturbed, panic, of another reason. Getting up for a noticeable reason had no effect on the sliding while standing up.

There were significant differences between farms in how often foals were sliding when standing up. On one of the farms none of the foals slid, while on another farm the sliding percentage was as high as 50%. The management between the farms differed in the surface of the housing system, the time that the foal was exercised (actively or passively), and whether their hooves were trimmed or not. But the number of farms were insufficient to come to significant differences. These aspects require further investigation

At the beginning of the study 25% of the foals did not have OC. During the 6 months that the foals were followed, 10% developed OC and the OC disappeared in 23% of the foals. At the age of 12 months, 38% of the foals did not have OC. Whether or not a foal had OC was a little negatively correlated tot the sliding percentage. Possible explanation for this is the fact that OC may hurt, which stimulated the foals to stand up carefully and, as a result, they slid less.

So can the development of OC be controlled by specific adjusted housing, exercising, and feeding of foals? The results of this study seem to give some indications in that direction, but the study would need to be repeated with more foals and farms, to get a more reliable insight. A good reason for additional research it seems!

The reference to this article is: E. M. van GrevenhofA. R. D. Gezelle MeerburgM. C. van DierendonkA. J. M. van den BeltB. van SchaikP. Meeus and W. Back. 2017. Quantitative and qualitative aspects of standing-up behavior and the prevalence of osteochondrosis in Warmblood foals on different farms: could there be a link? BMC Veterinary Research 13:324

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