By Lisa B. Pot
Lameness scoring practice videos may be the best tool to teach farmers to recognize milk lameness in dairy cattle.
Farmers get used to seeing their cows walk “not quite right.” They recognize the obviously lame cattle but not the mildly lame, says Dr. Stephanie Croyle who researches epidemiology and dairy cattle lameness at the University of Guelph. However, even mild lameness becomes an economic and welfare drain on dairy farmers.
Croyle spoke at the Woodstock Dairy Symposium in February to encourage farmers to view the lameness scoring practice videos at www.nationaldairystudy.ca as an opportunity to improve their herds and mitigate risks.
“Farmers are missing two out of three of their lame cows,” said Croyle. Studies indicate that 29 per cent of cows in herds are mildly to severely lame, not an insignificant number.
Moreover, farmers have misplaced confidence in their ability to detect mildly lame cows.
It begins with understanding the definition of lameness, something Croyle defined as “Any abnormality which causes a cow to change the way that she walks and can be caused by a range of foot and leg conditions, themselves caused by disease, management or environmental factors.”
Once a locomotion score hit level three, these cows are considered at risk.
In terms of scoring, there are five Gait Scores:
Gait Score 1, Sound – cow walks with smooth and fluid locomotion, has a flat back and even steps
Gait Score 2, Imperfect Gait – cow walks with slightly uneven gait and slight joint stiffness but with no limp
Gait Score 3, Mildly Lame – cows walks with shortened strides, possibly an arched back and a slight limp
Gait Score 4, Moderately Lame – cow walks with an obvious limp, an arched back and jerky head bob
Gait Score 5, Severely Lame – cow is unwilling to bear weight on one or more legs and must be vigorously encouraged to walk.
While gait score four and five are easy to detect, three is more difficult. Croyle says there are four behaviours farmers can pay attention to help detect lameness. It’s a matter of watching cow’s feet.
Cows with sore legs and feet will rest, shift, edge or have uneven steps. You can view these stall behaviours in Croyle’s collection of lameness scoring videos on the National Dairy Study website.
These lame cattle are at risk of producing less milk, reproduction issues and ultimately being culled from the herd.
Croyle had advice on how to combat and treat lameness.
She said thin cows are particularly susceptible to lameness. When a cows loses body condition, it increases the laxity in connective tissue, including the hoof. Paying special attention to fresh cows to make sure they don’t lose body condition is very important.
In terms of the cow’s environment, rubber mats in key areas where cows rest or turn can reduce hoof stress.
Recognize that tie-stall and free-stall barn environments are more conducive to lameness than barns that house cattle on bedding packs.
Treating should be done early and effectively using qualified hoof trimmers not afraid to use blocks early and regularly. The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also be helpful.
“Take time to practice scoring your cows or ask consultants for help,” advised Croyle. ◊