By Ash Michael, Dairy Extension Officer
Do you find that your dairy cows have a higher incidence of lameness on your farm than you would like? By taking a strategic look at your individual farm situation you can identify areas for improvement and help to reduce the incidence of lameness in your dairy herd. You should aim to have no more than five per cent of the herd lame per month.
Farmers are using prevention, early detection and treatment of lameness to achieve better outcomes in cow comfort, improved milk production, and better reproductive performance of their dairy herd. Lameness in dairy cows in Australia can be caused by a range of environmental, nutritional and infectious factors.
Farm conditions can result in damage to cow’s hooves, including stone bruises and thin soles. Important things to consider to minimise the incidence of lameness in dairy cows are good laneways, reducing time spent on concrete and reducing pressure on cows during movement.
Managing wet conditions
Most farmers find that extremely wet conditions result in a lot more cows becoming lame.
Prolonged exposure to moisture causes the hoof to soften, making bruising, penetration injuries and white-line disease more common. The skin between the claws and around the foot also softens and macerates, leaving the skin more prone to infections such as footrot.
The higher bacterial loads present in wet muddy environments add to the problem. Larger stones and sharp gravel are also exposed after the fine topping materials are washed from track surfaces.
The cost of an individual case of lameness is estimated to be between $200 and $500. If a herd outbreak occurs, the costs can increase across the herd.
A good laneway can be built by selecting a suitable foundation and with suitable surface materials, so it stands up to the constant cow traffic and damage by rain and excess water.
Select a material for the surface layer that won’t damage the cow’s hooves, but which will also repel and run water off the laneway, helping to keep it dryer and last longer. The surface layer needs to be crowned to assist with water runoff.
Good drainage for your laneway is also very important. It needs to collect water runoff and divert it correctly to increase the life of your laneway. The drain should be fenced off so cattle can’t walk in it and pug it up, which will reduce its effectiveness.
Farmers find that regular maintenance to the laneway surface is best as it helps increase its life and avoid costly repairs to the foundation layer.
Reducing time on concrete
Most dairy farmers already follow the practice of minimising the time cows are spending on concrete, which helps to reduce stone bruises and the wearing away of the sole on the cow’s hooves. Any further reductions in time spent on concrete for cows will assist in reducing the lameness of dairy cattle.
Reducing pressure on cows during movement
When cows are allowed enough time to move slowly at their own pace, the cows can look and place their feet and avoid uneven surfaces or stones and thus avoid stone damage to their feet. This will in turn help reduce the incidence of lameness in the dairy herd.
Acidosis can result in lameness in dairy cattle. Acidosis can cause laminitis, paint brush haemorrhages and white line disease, reducing the cow’s ability to walk freely.
To help reduce the incidence of acidosis ensure cows are receiving adequate effective fibre, and a precise allocation of grain.
A well-balanced diet for the dairy cow will include adequate fibre, which helps to buffer the rumen pH. Rumen buffers and/or modifiers may also be required depending on the level of grain feeding to reduce the rumen pH and reduce the incidence of acidosis in the dairy herd.
Your cows can have infections on their hooves, including footrot and hairy heel warts. The use of footbaths and reducing mud in high traffic areas can help reduce the incidence of lameness in some cases. It’s also important to consult with your veterinarian to develop a strategy for your farm.
Benefits of reduced lameness
Reducing lameness on your farm will assist to improve profitability. Lame cows will usually produce less milk and be culled sooner from the herd. Lameness will also result in additional costs of veterinary treatment. Most cases of lameness are foot associated and the rear feet are more commonly affected than the front.
Lameness in individual cows can have an impact on their reproductive performance, depending on the timing of the lameness episode relative to the mating period. The higher the incidence of lameness in the herd, the greater the potential impact this condition will have on the herd’s overall reproductive performance.
InCalf research identified the following reproductive impacts through lameness.
|Type of lameness||Reproductive performance measure||Impact of lameness in an individual cow|
Mild lameness – little interference with cow movement as defined by the farmer
6 week in-calf rate
2 – 7 % decrease
Not in calf rate
3 – 12 % increase
Severe lameness – little weight carried, or cow movement severely affected
6 week in-calf rate
6 – 17 % decrease
Not in calf rate
11–12 % increase