Prevent Lameness through good Husbandry

Several studies into the incidence of cow mobility problems on UK dairy farms have suggested that the wide range of lameness incidence is primarily due to differences in herd husbandry and management factors. This strongly suggests that dairy cow mobility can be significantly improved through changes to herd management, and that a high level of lameness is not a problem which has to be accepted as part of modern dairy farming, even if lameness cannot be eliminated entirely.

Above is a video presentation of a Webinar, hosted by DairyCo, by Prof. Nina von Keyserlink (University of British Columbia, Canada)

Early detection and prevention of lameness through good cattle management is essential in controlling mobility problems. The cost of preventative controls - such as footbathing and treatment at the earliest sign of any problem - pales into insignificance when compared with the average cost of lameness at nearly £180 per case. Mobility Scoring the herd on a regular basis is the most effective means of identifying those cows that would benefit from early treatment - before the problem becomes serious - along with routine regular foot trimming, particularly at drying-off.

Good welfare conditions are also paramount in avoiding and preventing lameness. Animals kept under good welfare conditions are also likely to be healthier, more productive and longer-living. The UK Farm Animal Welfare Council's Five Freedoms were devised to define how livestock should be kept:

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst: ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort: providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease: prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour: providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress: ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

The Five Freedoms obviously apply to livestock husbandry as a whole, but they have a particular relevance to the mobility of dairy cows, particularly high-yielding animals:

  • Herd health plans created with input from vets and nutritionalists have an important role to play in planning routine prevention and the treatment of lameness in the herd; carefully planned herd nutrition will avoid deficiencies or imbalances which can lead to mobility problems.
  • Regular foot bathing, Mobility Scoring, foot trimming, and effective record keeping are important tools when preventing or managing foot problems. Mobility Scoring can help to identify and measure the levels of lameness problems, and aid in defining treatments and monitoring improvements.
  • The correct and prompt identification of the exact cause of the problem is essential, to enable the correct course of treatment to be followed, any future preventative measures to be put into place - particularly with infectious diseases - and measures taken to alleviate the pain associated with lameness in order to aid recovery.
  • The herd's everyday environment and management are essential areas to manage, plan and monitor; this includes cow track design and maintenance, housing type and design, and routine measures to keep cows' feet clean. Monitoring the cow's environment and how this affects her behaviour is important, particularly housing and underfoot conditions.
  • Keeping good records of past and current lameness problems, particularly with regard to recurring cases and problem cows will help to minimise future mobility problems, along with good breeding selection and heifer management.