Lameness is a persistent issue on dairy farms all year round, but as we head into the autumn months, the risk becomes particularly high. During the past few months, cows may have been walking long distances or on road surfaces that are in poor condition. As we transition into autumn, land that was previously used for silage production is often introduced into the grazing platform, resulting in cows having to walk even further distances.
To mitigate this risk, farmers should take proactive measures to prepare for the high-risk period. One important step is to examine and repair road surfaces in high-traffic areas and on parts of the farm that have not been grazed since spring. It is crucial to complete any necessary repairs to roadways in these areas over the coming weeks. Taking the time to fix damaged roadways can greatly improve herd hoof health later in the year.
In addition to road repairs, farmers should also focus on clearing grass verges to ensure that surface water can flow to the field. Overhanging branches should be cut back, and any debris on surfaces, bends, and paddock access points should be removed. These measures help create a safer environment for the cows and reduce the risk of lameness.
Now is also an opportune time to identify cows within the herd that are showing signs of lameness. The most effective way to do this is through locomotion scoring. Cows should be assessed while walking on level, unobstructed walkways that provide a clear view for the observer. Locomotion scoring is often performed when the cows are leaving the milking parlour.
During locomotion scoring, it is important to note that a cow’s hind foot should land in the same place as her front foot. Failure to do so may indicate a lameness issue. The scoring system is based on a five-point scale that considers both gait and posture. A cow is considered normal if she is not lame and her back is flat. Mild lameness is indicated by a slightly arched back during walking. Moderately lame cows have an arched back while standing and walking with short strides in one or more legs. Lame cows can still bear some weight on the affected foot, while severely lame cows have an arched back, refuse to bear weight on the affected foot, and remain recumbent.
By identifying and addressing lameness issues early on, farmers can take appropriate measures to improve the health and well-being of their herd. Regular locomotion scoring and proactive road maintenance are essential practices that can make a significant difference in preventing lameness and ensuring the overall welfare of dairy cows.