Lameness is a serious welfare issue affecting almost every dairy farm in the country.

Lameness issues on farms are likely influenced by the wet weather conditions experienced across the country, causing the quality of farm roadways to deteriorate and become wet and mucky.

Lameness can be a frustrating and costly issue for farmers. Ger Cusack – veterinary practitioner with Comeragh vets – said that – on average – one lameness case is costing a dairy farmer €300/year.

This includes: €50 on treatment; €100 on loss of yield; €100 on increased culling (10% of lameness cases are culled); and €50 on loss in fertility.

However, there are ways to prevent and combat the issue before it has a huge financial impact on your business – with some of these coming at no extra cost to the farmer.

To prevent or reduce the risk of lameness:
  • Improve the quality of roadway surfaces;
  • Have clean yards and passageways;
  • Allow cows enough time to walk from the paddock to the yard, meaning no shoving or pushing cows;
  • Keep a distance of 5m behind the herd when they are walking;
  • Avoid overcrowding in collecting yards;
  • When housed, ensure an adequate number of cubicles and feed spaces are available;
  • Footbath regularly if there is a need to do so;
  • Complete regular mobility score checks;
  • Treat lame cows promptly.

Farmers must be proactive about lameness. A lame cow should be promptly identified and treated accordingly to maximise the chances of the cure rate.

It is also a good idea to complete regular hoof pairing on the herd. This will help you to identify the type of lameness on your farm, so that you can find a solution.

Mobility scoring

Farmers are very good at spotting cows when they are at advanced stages of lameness, but mobility scoring is a great way of getting those cows at an early stage.

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.

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

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.

Mobility scoring should be completed on a smooth, level surface – observing cows from behind and from the side – such as when they are leaving or coming in for milking.

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.