Lameness in dairy cows is a serious welfare issue, causing both pain and distress to the animal. Lameness can adversely affect several areas, such as milk production, fertility and feeding behaviour. On average, each case of lameness costs £323 on a typical dairy farm. Research carried out on 57 Northern Ireland dairy farms by AFBI (Hillsborough) showed that on average 33% of cows in a herd were lame (range 1.5-74.7%). Due to the range in lameness levels between farms, this research suggests that dairy cow mobility could be improved through the adoption of specific practical strategies highlighted within this section.
As with any disease early detection is critical and this is particularly true for lameness, with the system used being mobility scoring. Mobility scoring is a system whereby cows are scored on a scale of 0-3 based on their mobility, with 0 being good and 3 being a severely lame cow.
Regular and routine foot trimming is important to maintain even and appropriate foot balance. It is important to note that all hoof trimming should only be carried out by an appropriately trained person. Research shows that early and effective treatment of lame cows (within 48 hours) helps to reduce lameness in a herd.
Footbathing is a key aspect in controlling infectious foot diseases such as digital dermatitis. A survey recently carried out by AFBI indicated that a large proportion of farmers who use footbaths were unaware of the concentration rates they used. Based on this information CAFRE have developed a footbath calibration tool for dairy farmers. The calibration tool is a guide to determine the volume of water in a footbath and quantity of footbathing product required.
A housing assessment is also available, which is an aid to identifying potential causes of lameness.
Within the CAFRE Dairy herd, both in milk and dry cows are mobility scored on a monthly basis, with cows identified as score 2 or greater scheduled for treatment ASAP. Additional to this all cows receive a routine hoof trim at drying off. Furthermore, the Dairy Centre has integrated specific features with the aim of improving mobility such as:
- Pre/post calving straw pens
- Specific hoof trimming facilities
- Vink hoof washer
- Floors with good grip
Management practices to improve mobility in dairy cows include:
- Mobility scoring
- Footbath calibration
- Preventative foot trimming
- Recording the findings from hoof trimming
- Housing assessment (using the CAFRE housing checklist)
- Dermatitis scoring
- Lameness treatment facilities (installing or updating foot crushes)
- Installing 3.0m+ footbaths