Veterinary advice: Herd lameness: locomotion scoring a good first step

I always dreaded the drive out to Teddy’s, with the last bit full of potholes, so it was a great surprise to find the road had been resurfaced to top standard.

“Gee, Teddy, how did you get the road done?”

“I told them politicians that if they wanted my vote, then they’d better get the road done first.”

The call was to a cow with mastitis but, as usual, Teddy had a few lame cows to be looked at, usually gravel with a drop, or maybe under-run sole.

I usually see one acute case, with a few others that are “tender” or have long hooves. These are always the thin end of the wedge.

In general surveys, farmers put lameness way down the list of problems on their farm.

In reality, it is a major contributor to farming losses.

Locomotion scoring should be done on a regular basis.

In locomotion scoring a dairy herd, we grade animals from 1-5, looking for cows nodding, arching the spine, walking with a short stride, slow walking etc.

It should always be done on cows individually on a solid, flat, non-slip and well-lit surface.

Always record the scores.

The normal animal is 1, and the obviously lame one is 5.

In between is probably 70% of the herd.

These are the ones that are costing you money.

They are not producing the milk yield they should, because of underlying pain and discomfort, spending more time lying down or getting to the paddock when they should be filling their rumens.

They are also not as fertile as they should be, for similar reasons.

The whole herd should be hoof trimmed at least twice a year by a competent hoof trimmer. Over-trimming is a dangerous thing, and leads to serious problems for the herd.

You must always maintain sole thickness, as this is the protection layer for the foot.

A major factor affecting the health of hooves is the length of time per day spent in contact with the concrete surface. This is very hard on the foot.

With herd expansion, we are seeing overcrowding, which means more time spent looking for a feeding spot, waiting to get a drink of water, standing in the collecting yard before milking, and maybe a lack of cubicle space.

In the pasture, the underfoot conditions are more forgiving, and the cow can spend more time standing or walking.

We need to give our cows comfort.

Things like rubber mats in the cubicle and in front of the feed barrier are invaluable.

Once lame, the cow’s hoof needs a more yielding surface.

Straw bedding or sand are a lot easier for this cow.

Roadways need to be properly made and then maintained constantly.

Lameness can be categorised into three areas.

  • Laminitis involves conditions like sole ulcers, bruising, white line disease, cracks to the wall and heel.

These are triggered by nutritional triggers like SARA, negative energy balance, and the hormonal changes around calving.

So nutritional management is key.

The sudden introduction of heifers to concrete surfaces in confined housing needs to be looked at.

You can have concrete pads around feeding/watering areas, so they can be gradually introduced to the hard surface before housing.

  • Infectious lameness includes foot rot, mortellaro, digital dermatitis etc.

These can be controlled by having clean dry surfaces for the cow to walk/stand on.

Regular footbaths help control the population of infectious agents.

  • Upper limb lameness includes things like pelvic fractures from slipping on smooth surfaces, and swollen hocks from lying on cubicles that are too short.

All herd health plans should include lameness.

A session of locomotion scoring with your vet will tell you where you are at, and is a starting point to a more productive and fertile herd.

I left Teddy’s, wondering what TD the cows could contact to look after their roadways.


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