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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

What's the level of lameness in your herd?!

Dairy Pipeline: March 2002

Ernest Hovingh
Extension Veterinarian
VA-MD Regional College of Vet Medicine

Recently, the 12th International Symposium on Lameness in Ruminants was held in Orlando, Florida. This meeting, which is held every 2 years in different parts of the world, brings together a wide variety of people interested in ruminant (primarily dairy cattle) lameness. Presentations dealing with lameness in beef cattle, sheep and goats were also given. A wide assortment of topics was covered - from very basic, molecular research, to practical, applied on-farm studies. One of the presentations reported the findings of an on-farm study (by H.R. Whay et al.) involving 53 herds in the United Kingdom. [More herds were to be included, but the Foot & Mouth Disease outbreak interrupted the study!] During this study, the investigators first asked the owner or herdsman directly responsible for managing the lactating cows what the level of lameness was in the herd that day, including already treated animals and those only mildly lame. Overall, the estimates ranged from 0 to 35% cows lame, with an average estimate of 5.7%. However, when the investigators used a lameness scoring system to assess all of the cows during the visit, they discovered that 51 of the 53 producers had underestimated the level of lameness in their herds - and most by quite a substantial amount! On average, there were approximately four times as many lame cows in the herd (22.1%) as had been predicted by the herdsman/owner. The authors suggest that not all lameness may be recognized or perceived due to a lack of training or knowledge. It is also possible that in some herds (mild) lameness has become accepted as 'normal' because it is so commonly experienced, or perhaps it is thought to be 'insignificant' to health and performance, and so not considered! A simple 5-point scoring system has been introduced by D.J. Sprecher and colleagues which evaluates the posture of a cow at a standstill and while walking, and assigns a lameness score based on this evaluation. Some research using this system suggests that this evaluation can identify cows that are not (yet) significantly lame, but are lame enough that it might be affecting their performance. An assessment of the level of lameness in a herd could be done using this system by scoring the cows in the return lanes from the parlor, or in the freestall housing area. Monitoring the level of lameness in a herd in this manner can provide an opportunity to promptly examine the individual animals that are found to be mildly lame, hopefully preventing the development of more serious cases of lameness. Equally as important is the opportunity to evaluate management practices (such as transition cow or ration management) which may reduce the level of lameness in the future. Milk quality (eg. SCC), body condition score and reproductive performance are examples of assessments that are already regularly carried out on many of Virginia's dairy farms. Perhaps its time to add a routine lameness evaluation to the list! Do you know what percent of your cows are lame today? If you are interested in getting some more information about this scoring system or lameness in cattle, please contact your veterinarian or myself.

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