At one point, we assessed the pros and cons of a cubicle house on the farm.
It was a well constructed house with the best of materials used. We assessed the house from another perspective. How is this cubicle house being used by its inhabitants, the cows and heifers?
One of the things we watched for was the degree of lameness in the group. The thought struck me that this was a perfect time on the farm to carry out locomotion scoring on all the animals before they came in for the winter.
It is not so easy to notice the early signs of lameness, when cows are in the cubicle house, since they are more crowded together, and maybe the light is not always the best.
Different regimes of locomotion scoring are used throughout the world, but all have a starting point of 1.0, where the animal is sound, and an end point where the animal is extremely lame and unable to move.
What comes in between is various levels based on arching of the back, favouring a leg while walking, using shortened strides etc.
If you would like some help to decide on a particular scoring system, your local vet should be only too happy to help out.
Whatever system you use, you should use it objectively and truthfully; otherwise you are only fooling yourself and selling your animals short.
There is no point in coming up with 90-100% animals sound. Studies have shown that in intensively managed dairy herds, at any one time, approximately 20% of cows are lame.
When you have carried out a locomotion score on all your animals, what do you do with the information? Obviously, animals that are favouring a leg and are clinically lame should receive immediate attention to find the cause of the lameness and to remedy the situation.
If we allow cows that are “tender” into the cubicle house for the winter, the situation will not get better.
These animals will not eat as often or as efficiently as they should. Getting up and lying down is a big deal for these cows, and quite often they will injure themselves further, with injured hocks and injuries to the wings of the pelvis being very common.
We may well look at cow mats as being the height of luxury for our dairy cows, but, as Martin pointed out to us at our event, sometimes these mats provide little more than insulation.
Like everything else in life, you get what you pay for, with a vast variation of cow mat quality available to the farmer.
If we use a 1-5 locomotion scoring system, it is the 2s and 3s in particular that we can learn from. With a lot of cows at these scores, we have to ask ourselves what the underlying cause is. In 2007, Cook & Nordlund published findings on the influence of the environment on dairy cow claw health. They talk about four triggers factors for claw lesion development being:
- Nutrition which affects the quality of the hoof due to vitamins and digestive problems like SARA.
- Hormonal changes in the run up to calving.
- External trauma.
- Infectious agents.
External trauma can vary from poor passageways to standing on concrete for too long.
Maybe the cows have too long a walk to and from the pasture.
Whatever the cause we need to ensure that the score of 2 does not turn into a 4 or 5, because of the environment they face in the cubicles this winter.