When it comes to managing a profitable dairy herd, you have to place a high priority on mobility. If your cows are suffering from pain and discomfort when they try to walk, every other area from reproduction, to nutrition and milk production will be negatively affected. Unfortunately, we often don’t identify the problem until it is so far along that treatment costs are high and recovery rates are low.
Of course, the goal is to reduce lameness to a zero percent occurrence. Even if everyone observing the herd strives for this objective, it is a difficult job, especially if the animal to observer ratio is high.
Once, the lameness problem has been identified, we start looking to discover what has caused it. It comes down to two choices, environment and genetics.
Research points to three helpful conclusions:
Genetics of Locomotion
We have all heard cattle classifiers and show judges point out that locomotion is a key point in identifying exceptional animals. “Moving on a great set of feet and legs” is highly desirable. Cows with a higher feet and legs score, steeper foot angle and somewhat straighter legs have genetically better locomotion. We all think we know what great legs look like, but the inheritance and genetics of proper foot structure is an area that requires scientific research.
At the simplest level, although not always achievable, lame cows benefit from spending even short periods of time on pasture. Relative to the cows housed indoors, cows on pasture improved by a full gait score (i.e. from 3 to 2) over the 5 week treatment period. Two specific elements of gait, tracking up and reluctance to bear weight evenly on all 4 hooves, also improved. There was no change in two other specific gait elements (head bob, back arch). Cows on pasture also spent less time lying down than did cows kept indoors. The study concluded that lame cows benefit from spending even less than 3 weeks on pasture.
Cows were scored after administered pain relief medication (ketoprofen) to cows exhibiting gait impairment. Saline was administered to lame control cows. Cows were scored before, during and after treatment. Numerical Rating Scores improved in response to ketoprofen dose, with the greatest improvement occurring at the highest dose (3 mg per kg of body weight). However, even NRS improved by only 0.25 suggesting that more potent drugs are required to treat this pain or that much variation in cow gait is due to factors other than pain.
You can`t fix what you don`t see. Use your eyes. It is crucial that you use every observable technique at your disposal to identify animals that are having foot problems and, it is even more crucial that you do it sooner rather than later. Keep records. This is one area that sets apart the winners from those who also-ran, or more correctly, those who also-limp.