Lameness is a constant threat with any dairy herd, and is one of the three chief reasons for involuntary culling, along with mastitis and fertility problems.
Each of these conditions can affect an animal’s productivity, and even in mild forms, may be used as a reason for removing the animal from the herd – even when through simple early detection, treatment and preventative actions, that animal could remain productive well past the usual average 2.5 lactations.
There are wide-ranging reasons for a cow to contract lameness, including injury, foot infection or claw diseases: but the net effect is often the same. An animal that is in pain, even though it may not be showing it, will be less productive than a healthy animal. That is the simple part of the equation, but as many as 50% of cases are not readily visible to the farmer, who will merely notice a fall in yield. And at any given time, according to researchers in the Welfare Quality® project some 5-10% of the herd will suffer lameness at any given time. Each case of lameness costs the farmer around 220 euros or 300 USD. What’s to be done?
Hoof management is one of the most important welfare activities for the dairy farmer, and those activities can be broadly divided into two areas: preventive activities, and an action plan for treatment.
Preventive activities are surprisingly straight-forward. Start with observing your cows at all times. But don’t wait until you see cases of lameness: rather, inspect regularly and make sure your herd has its hooves trimmed at least three times a year. Bedding is important: it should be soft and dry and, preferably, turned several times a day. And concrete flooring in a barn can play havoc with ladies’ feet: better to have rubber flooring while they’re indoors. Don’t forget cleanliness: hooves need to be dry and clean to avoid infection. A footbath once a week is a good idea.
For little extra effort or expense, coupled with plain old common sense, the number of cases of lameness can be reduced to almost zero, and that can have an important effect on your yield and your productivity. But it can also help keep your cows being productive and profitable for longer.