Getting top score on foot health

Published 26 April 10

Dairy producer Andrew Mycock milks 320, high yielding, year round calving cows at Flagg Hall Farm near Buxton in Derbyshire. His herdsman, Greg Bird, has been mobility scoring since November 2008 when he attended a DairyCo meeting on mobility scoring at Sutton Bonnington, University of Nottingham.

"We have a contractor, who comes in every six to eight weeks, to do the routine foot trimming and he foot trims every cow's feet about 100 days after calving and when they're nearly dry," explains Greg.  "And we picked up any obviously lame cow's feet in-between visits. But the event at Sutton Bonnington in the autumn of 2008 made me really think about the benefits of identifying lameness cases early and treating them quickly.

"Like most dairy units we don't have the time we'd like to stop and just watch the cows moving so sometimes lameness can creep up on you without you noticing. Mobility scoring makes me take that time to really concentrate on how each animal is moving. I can lift the feet of those cows I've scored into mobility score 2 and hopefully catch any problems before they develop into something more serious."

Greg now mobility scores every four to six weeks and uses the DairyCo mobility scoring sheets to quickly and easily note down which category a cow falls into:

Score 0 and 1 - acceptable mobility

Score 2 - likely to benefit from treatment

Score 3 - very lame, treatment urgently required.

"We have very few cows in Score 3 on the mobility sheet and they tend to be cows with chronic foot problems. In reality it is a case of keeping them as comfortable as possible but they are likely not to be with us for very much longer," says Greg.

"What is more interesting and useful for us are the cows in Score 2, which are classified as likely to benefit from treatment. They are the ones we want to have a good look at.

"I've got into the routine now of trying to lift two or three cows' feet a day as soon as we finish milking if we've got the time. They could be animals I've had on my mobility list to look at from our most recent scoring or something I've just noticed that morning. It means I can work through the list of cows that have appeared on Score 2 and see what is happening before they develop into anything more serious.

"Once the cow is on the Score 2 list and I pick up her feet I do tend to find the beginnings of a problem. I've also learnt to pick up all of the feet as the issue is often not on the foot that she seems to be displaying signs of lameness on," says Greg.

"One of the things that was very interesting from the course I attended was the information I picked up about making sure we watch the cows walking round a corner. Some cattle might not look lame while walking in a straight line but it's when they turn a corner, and their weight shifts that you might see that tweak. It's a good early sign of problems to come."

And in fact Greg mobility scores all the cattle as they walk out of the parlour and make a left turn. The area has plenty of space and the cows can take their time and show plenty of natural behaviour. 

Mobility scoring did pick up a problem at the end of the summer last year. It highlighted to both Andrew and Greg that there was a higher than usual lameness problem in the cows going outside. After further investigation it turned out that the wet summer had helped to destroy the surface of the track and small stones had started to work their way into the white lines of the hooves.

"I think lameness is one of the big issues with the modern Holstein," says Greg. "If cows are uncomfortable they are not spending enough time standing at the feed face. Getting the energy requirements of the cow right, especially after calving, is hard enough as it is without her not wanting to stand and feed.

"And it all has knock on effects. It's noticeable that when a vet singles out a cow with fertility problems she's often one I've got on my list for mobility problems," he adds.

Andrew and Greg have worked together to make the system at Flagg Hall as feet friendly as possible.

"The whole herd is put through the footbath once a week, using copper sulphate one week and antibiotic footbath the next," explains Andrew.  "All feet are blasted with the hose in the parlour before they go into the footbath, not only to ensure that the solution has a chance to make contact with the area it is designed for and stop the footbath becoming too mucky but it also gives us a good view of the heel."

In the cubicle house Greg and Andrew have pushed the brisket board forward which has meant longer lying times for cows.

After initially using sand the unit at Flagg Hall farm now beds up using envirobed paper, a dried paper waste.

"At about £2 a cow per week it works out at about the same cost as sand but it's an awful lot kinder to our slurry system," says Andrew. "The cows are kept very clean but there are varied thoughts on cow comfort as the paper tends to set hard like papier-mâché when wet, causing an uneven surface which can't be that comfortable to lie on.

"We use a mini-digger to clear the cubicle beds every five to six months and you can see that the cows lie more happily on them after that.

"We also rake the beds twice a day as the cows make their way out for milking and an automatic scraper runs through the building seven times over a 24 hour period," he adds.

Mobility scoring is paying dividends at Flagg Hall Farm, says Andrew.  "When we first mobility scored, back in November 2008, 71% of the herd scored 0 or 1, meaning they had acceptable mobility. In November 2009 that had risen almost 10% to 79.6% in band 0 and 1."

"Lameness not only has welfare implications but it's costly and takes up precious time. We have a caravan park here and we farm in a very busy holiday area with lots of walkers passing near to and through the farm. It is important that we can show then healthy, happy cows. Lame animals are no good for our business and no good for public perception of our industry."

DairyCo tools

DairyCo has produced a mobility DVD that contains information about the best possible location to mobility score, and when and how often to score in order to make it a really useful management tool for your business. It also has information on, and examples of, the points to look for when scoring cattle into each category.     

To order the DairyCo Mobility Scorepad, and/or DVD call 02476 478695, email publications@dairyco.org.uk, or visit www.dairyco.org.uk.