‘Farmers need to be proactive about lameness’

Lameness is the number one welfare issue on dairy farms and a lame cow could “cost you up to €300/cow/year”.

On last week’s episode of the Dairy Edge podcast – run by Teagasc and presented by Emma-Louise Coffey – animal health expert Muireann Conneely discussed the affects of lameness and the importance of mobility scoring when detecting lame cows.

Touching on what impact lameness has on the cow, she said: “It’s painful for the cow, which is the main issue. It’s a cause of stress, affects everything that she does and prevents her from interacting normally – including eating normally.

“Then, obviously, this has a knock on effect for the farmer, his production system and is a huge cause of economic loss as well. It also increases the probability of the cow being culled.”

In terms of the effect on production, Muireann explained how studies have shown that “cows which are lame had a reduction of 0.7L/day compared to a cow that was not lame and if a cow scored three – which is extremely lame – she was producing 1.8L/day less”.

“It was also found that this reduction in milk production was detected eight weeks before the cow was detected as lame.”

Muireann also highlighted how the “stress of lameness can have an impact on the cow’s fertility”.

She said: “It affects their standing to be mounted which affects their heat expression. Additionally, cows that are lame have increased calving intervals, lower conception rates and more open days.

Mobility scoring

“It’s all about being proactive. Farmers are very good at spotting cows that are in the advance stages of lameness, but mobility scoring is a great way of getting those cows at an early stage.

“This is important because the earlier you treat a cow, the greater the chance of recovery,” explained Muireann.

The mobility scoring system that Muireann uses has four levels, ranging from 0-3.

Mobility score:
  • 0 – is perfectly normal;
  • 1 – slightly lame and it is difficult to detect which foot she is lame on;
  • 2 – clinically lame and easily identifiable;
  • 3 – severely lame and in a lot of pain.

“For a cow that scores one, I would note her number and just keep an eye on her. If a cow scores two, she needs to be examined and have her hoof lifted – as soon as possible – and for a cow that scores three, I would say that she needs to be seen by a vet immediately,” she highlighted.

Answering the question on how often should farmers mobility score, she said: “Once a month is a good place to start.”