Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

Eliminate causes of cow lameness

Dr Mary Kinston

WHETHER you put it down to the time of year, the recent spell of wet weather, cows walking further as a result of available silage aftermath etc, there are a few more lame cows than there was a month ago. But do you honestly know the true causes of the lameness on your farm?

For some farmers this is a small number and of no real concern but, for others, it is a sizeable problem and will need more attention than just foot paring. Are more than 7pc of your cows in one year lame (ie, more than three cows for a herd of 50)? If you answered yes, then there is a lameness problem in your herd. If you're expanding, it's even more important to rectify such a problem as increasing cow numbers will put extra pressure on existing facilities and cows, which commonly results in an increase in the incidence of lameness, increased costs, increased time required for treatment and loss of production.

Essentially, consideration needs to be given towards a treatment and prevention plan. Lameness is not an easy problem to fix. There is never one solution, and problems vary from farm to farm.

If you have lame cows, treatment is obviously the initial step. Early intervention is critical to avoid economic loss and also for animal welfare as she is likely to be restless, will eat less and rapidly lose body condition. Before treatment, you need to identify a lame cow and which foot she is lame on. Locomotion scoring can be a simple and effective tool for assessing whether a cow is lame and its prevalence in the herd at any one time.

There are five different scores from one (normal) to five (severely lame). Put simply, a cow should have a flat-back posture when she is standing and walking. If it is arched then she has some degree of lameness. To identify the lame foot, a simple rule is that, when a cow is walking, if she is lame in the front foot she will lift her head when she puts the lame front foot down. In reverse, if she is lame in the back foot, she will drop her head when putting down the lame back foot, and will also have a smaller stride. The next step is to determine the cause of the lameness in the cow. Around 85pc of lameness in dairy cattle is in the foot -- and lesions are generally responsible.

Lesions can be divided into two groups: infectious (digital dermatitis and footrot are common) and non-infectious (common claw-horn lesions are white line, sole ulcer or bruising, and interdigital lesions).


A key point when treating a cow is to record the incident and type of lameness as trends can identify what's causing it and aid its prevention. For example, white line is often caused by pressure and poor cow flow, causing twisting and turning of the hoof, especially when on concrete and often a fault of incorrect cow herding. Another is sole penetration caused by poor roadway surfaces, gravel on concrete, long tracks and abrasion wearing flat soles.

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Prevention is the key to having real success with lameness. Three key areas to consider are farm infrastructure, cow management/handling and the cow's nutrition. Focus on what you can control and identify problems by watching your cow's behaviour as they walk from the paddock, while they are in the collecting yard and when they are in the paddock.

In terms of infrastructure, pasture-fed cows do a lot of walking so roadways need to be well designed with a good surface that is maintained. This is especially important for the first 300-500m closest to the milking parlour. If your farm is long and narrow, this will have greater importance, as poor roadways will cause injury and slow the herd down.

Interestingly, if you have more than 120 cows, roadways should be 5m wide or more to permit free movement. Cow flow is also essential so eliminate sharp angles, turns and sudden changes in direction. Wet, boggy areas are a no no, as these stimulate cows to dung, which degrades the surface, so it's important to minimise shading of the roadway.

An area that doesn't get enough attention is cow management. From the moment your cows leave the paddock, how much pressure is being put on them? Cows put their back foot where their front foot has been, and need to look down to do so. If cows are being pressured, their heads go up and they can no longer take care to avoid stones -- and so lameness will occur. Their pecking order, habits and balance points also need consideration. These factors are especially important in collecting yards, eg the first 10-15 minutes after the last cow enters the yard is the time needed for cows to reform their milking order, so minimise pressure and herding during this time. If using a backing gate, simple rules are to not let it run for more than five seconds, and more than one metre in five seconds. It's also good to have a buzzer/noise associated with its movement to provide the cows with a warning.

So when you're getting the cows in or if you ever get the chance to observe your cows being milked, think about the incident and how you can reduce the cause of lameness on your farm.

Irish Independent