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Dairy Lameness Is Costing More Than You Think

One of the most important issues that dairy producers deal with on a continuing basis is lameness in the dairy herd. While lameness can vary from farm to farm in its severity and prevalence, the one thing that is certain is that any degree of lameness in the herd can quickly become a chronic drain on the bottom line.

There are reams of research on dairy cattle lameness, with some estimates in printed literature putting the cost of dairy cattle lameness from $65 to $150 per cow, per year. Losses due to lameness can include reduced milk production, poor reproductive performance, increased culling, and other health problems. What is perhaps the most important factor is overall animal comfort. A lame animal is in pain and will not perform to its full potential.

“While there have been several studies that have tried to pinpoint the actual production loss from cattle lameness, any estimate is severely underestimating the cost of chronic lameness in the herd,” says Dörte Döpfer, associate professor of food animal production medicine at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. “For acute lameness issues, loss estimates do not take into account the long-term consequences.”

Döpfer says research into lameness issues often focuses on the short-term implications of acute issues in a herd. “Lameness is not an issue that simply goes away after treatment. It requires long-term diligence, including constant monitoring, surveillance, and proactive treatment.”

Dwight Kickhafer, account manager for Zinpro Corporation, says lameness issues can often be overwhelming because there’s not always one single cause or one single remedy. 

“Nutrition, flooring, weather, free stall design, stocking density, or trimming. Each issue may not seem connected, but each can play a role,” he says.

minimize impact

There’s no simple fix when it comes to lameness. Yet, with a consistent approach, you can minimize the impact. Foremost in any plan is the recognition that there is a verifiable cost associated with cattle lameness and that it’s a long-term plan. 

“It’s not that producers don’t know lameness can have a significant impact on their bottom line,” says Stan Moore, a dairy and human resource management educator at Michigan State University. “But tracking animals and solving lameness issues can become overwhelming.”

Every person in contact with the cows should understand how to locomotion score gait and recognize when lameness might be an issue with a particular cow.

A good, consistent hoof-trimming program is paramount. While regular maintenance is important, so is acting on the problem immediately. 

“If you wait a few days or a week or two to address a lameness issue, it may be too late,” Döpfer says.

8 Tips to prevent, control lameness

Well-trained hoof trimmers are crucial for successful prevention and control of lameness. Experts offer these considerations.

  1. Is low-stress stockmanship practiced during herding of cattle?
  2. Does flooring provide good traction without slippage or excessive wear?
  3. Are animals given enough room to enter the stalls, lie down, and move around?
  4. Is bunk space adequate?
  5. Does the nutrition program supply essential nutrients, and are there no sudden feed changes? Cows need a consistent, balanced ration.
  6. Well-managed footbaths help control digital dermatitis and foot rot.
  7. Hoof care goes beyond regular trimming. It includes good bedding, clean alleyways, and the driest and most even surfaces possible.
  8. Is time in the holding pen area minimized? 
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