‘Cows are not risk-takers’: Vet explains causes of lameness

A Co. Waterford vet has advised farmers to allow cows sufficient time when walking on roadways in order to prevent lameness, saying “cows are not risk-takers”.

Speaking on the latest episode of FarmLand, Ger Cusack argued that cattle are more likely to experience lameness if they are being rushed along uneven or rough paths.

He was on the show to address the topic of lameness in dairy cattle, and how this can be avoided.

Cattle are careful animals; they’re not risk takers. If cows are allowed plenty of time to walk on the roadways when they’re being brought in or leaving the parlour after milking [they will have] plenty of time to pick their steps and avoid hazards.

“If you have situations where cows are being rushed by quad bikes or aggressive dogs, they’re pushed along with their heads up in the air. They’re not checking the ground. A normal cow walks with her head down checking the ground,” Cusack highlighted.


Cusack also highlighted the main causes of lameness in cattle, outlining that the majority of lameness cases are as a result of problems with the hind hoofs.

Particularly, the condition known as White Line is a significant cause. Cusack explained that this occurs when dirt or stones enter the hoof around the area of the white line.

He also went into detail about some of the environmental factors that cause lameness.

Poor surfaces, poor roadways, rough yards or situations where cows don’t have an opportunity to pick where they place their feet, and end up walking on stones or rough areas [results in the cow] traumatising the sole. You have bruising on the sole or penetration on the white line.

According to Cusack, the best thing a farmer can do to offset these causes is engage in good farm management – especially in terms of walking surfaces.

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“In the Irish context, the vast majority of cows spend most of their time grazing. The biggest single piece of infrastructure that a farmer needs to consider in relation to lameness is his roadways, and getting the surface to as good a level as possible,” he argued.


Cusack went on to explain the cost for dairy farmers when their cows experience lameness, quoting research from University College Dublin (UCD).

“UCD did some research about 10 years ago. Their finding was that the cost of the average case of lameness was in the order of €300.”

He explained: “[The researchers] broke that down into: €50 treatment costs; €100 in terms of lost milk yield; €100 in terms of additional culling – their finding was that 10% of cows that went lame were culled – and a further €50 in terms of fertility losses.

“Cows that go lame, especially in the seasonal breeding herd during the breeding season, are less likely to go on calf, it takes longer to get them in calf, they’re less likely to show heat and they’re less likely to conceive,” added Cusack.