How much can lameness cost your dairy farm per year?

“Lameness is the number one welfare issue that we have on dairy farms and lame cows cost you money; up to €300/cow/year.”

These were the words of Teagasc’s Muireann Conneely when she addressed a large crowd at the Shinagh dairy farm’s open day yesterday, where topics such as labour, carbon footprint and animal welfare were discussed.

Lameness is a very significant problem in many dairy herds. It is associated with a decrease in milk production, impaired reproductive performance and can increase the probability of a cow being culled.

On the day, Muireann outlined that mobility scoring cows – often – is key to reducing lameness on dairy farms in Ireland.

How do I mobility score my cows?

Muireann explained that there are six aspects when it comes to mobility scoring cows and it can be done before or after milking on a smooth, level surface – observing cows from behind and from the side.

The six aspects to mobility scoring are:
  • Speed;
  • Rhythm;
  • Stride length and foot placement – hind foot should follow front foot;
  • Weight bearing;
  • The cow’s back should be flat;
  • Head position.

Mobility scoring is a system whereby cows are scored on a scale of 0-3 based on their mobility, with zero being good and three being a severely lame cow.

Cows scoring either zero or one have acceptable mobility, and – therefore – they only need routine preventative foot trimming. The goal – when mobility scoring the herd – is to focus on identifying the cows scoring two or three and prioritising these cows for treatment as quick as possible.

If you leave them until they are crippled and they can’t walk, your chances of curing that cow are reduced.

“A lot of farmers have a tendency to wait and see do lame cows improve, but the earlier you get in there, the more money and time is saved in the long run,” the Moorepark-based research officer explained.

“If your not keeping an eye on what’s going on, then you have no way of tackling the problem; you have to identify the level of lameness, what’s caused the lameness and then you can look at your farm and see what factors [preventative] can be improved on.”

Key benefits of mobility scoring:
  • Identify cows with poor mobility in the herd;
  • Treat promptly to reduce the problem getting worse;
  • Reduced treatment costs;
  • Increased foot health awareness;
  • Problem areas such as roadways or other areas that cause lameness can be monitored.