What is the main cause of lameness in Irish dairy herds?

It's not what you might think

Lameness prevention is receiving renewed focus as a management issue across many dairy herds in Ireland
Lameness prevention is receiving renewed focus as a management issue across many dairy herds in Ireland

FarmIreland Team

Lameness prevention is receiving renewed focus as a management issue across many dairy herds in Ireland, according to Ger Cusack of Teagasc.

At this year’s national Dairy Conference he highlighted that the cost of a single case of lameness has been estimated at approximately €300 (UCD Herd Health Group), which comprises €50 in treatments,  €100 direct production loss, €100 extra culling costs, and €50 on fertility/other costs.

However, he said the intangible costs of extra workload (‘hassle factor’) and compromised cow welfare are often of more immediate concern to dairy farmers experiencing herd lameness problems.

Cusack said a recent study of spring calving herds carried out by Teagasc estimated, using the AHDB cow mobility scoring system, a lameness prevalence of 4pc in the spring period.

Cows in the same study were 10 times more likely to show reduced mobility in the autumn period.

Cusack said overall lameness rates compared quite favourably with lameness incidence in confinement-type systems.

Interestingly, Cusack said when lame cows were inspected further, over 95pc of hoof lesions were mechanical (bruising, white line disease, ulcers, overgrown digits) as opposed to infectious (mortellaro, foul in the foot) in nature.

“This indicates that the priority factors to be addressed for grazing herds are related to infrastructure and managing cow flow around milking times,” he said.

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Some key control measures for grazing herds include:

• Sharp  stones  and  pebbles  are  the  primary  cause  of  white  line  disease  and  bruising.  Road  surfaces should be finished with 50mm of surface material (<5mm aggregates) spread and compacted across the base layer. A road camber and regular cleaning of verges are essential to maintain good drainage. Avoid sharp turns on roadways where possible

• Manage the interface between roadways and yards/tunnels to avoid cows bringing pebbles onto concrete areas. Bark mulch is good option in some cases.

• Provide non-slip finishes on concrete areas.

• Cows will try to ‘pick their step’ while walking to avoid injury. Avoid rushing cows with dogs or a quad and allow the herd find its own pace when walking to/ from milking. Staff will need to be trained on this point.

• Cows generally enter the milking parlour in a different order than they arrive at the collecting yard. Collecting yards need to allow at least 1.5m space per cow to enable re-sorting and efficient cow flow. Install non-slip rubber mats if parlour exit space is confined.

• Cows are at greater risk of sole damage immediately after calving due to short-term changes in hoof ligaments. Avoid long walks for 2-3 days post-calving.

• Provide adequate cubicle space (of comfortable size and lying surface) and feed space (60cm) per cow to reduce lameness in heifers and lighter/ timid cows.

• Thin cows go lame more easily. Keep body condition score (BCS) at 2.75+ at all times during the year and provide adequate trace minerals (zinc) to promote hoof health.

• Regular herd mobility scoring is a very useful way to identify problem cows early. Timely identification and intervention greatly increases the success of hoof treatments.

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