Archive for March 2022

Do Feet and Leg Indices Really Help Improve Mobility and Reduce Lameness?

Every dairy herd manager is well-aware of the negative effects that lameness and impaired mobility have on the bottom line. These negatives occur in the growing pen, in the milk pail, in poorer conception, and in extended days in the dry pen. Genetic progress has been made in some feet and leg areas. However, to this day, there is not an easily applied genetic-based selection formula that helps achieve a long-lived animal with healthy feet and excellent locomotion for dairy animals.

What Causes Lameness and Mobility Problems?

There are many causes for why dairy cattle suffer from lameness and impaired mobility – due to sub-par farm facilities and practices, diseases, genetics, nutrition, …etc.

To date, the focus for avoiding lameness has been on management. Regular hoof care, foot baths, animal exercise, and environment adjustments are front of mind for herd managers to minimize lame and immobile animals. As well, most farms have adopted feeding programs so that diets are balanced and do not contribute to problems.

How Do Dairy Farmers See the Genetic Improvement of Their Animals for Feet and Locomotion?

Farmers recently surveyed in the Alberta Lameness Reduction Initiative study reported that they primarily rely on their hoof trimmers and veterinarians for the hoof care of their animals. It is as if improvement through genetic selection is not considered possible. Some dairy farmers have moved to crossbreeding to improve the feet and mobility of their animals.

Clearly, farmers, at least in confined housing environments, have accepted that they must incur the added costs associated with frequently trimming all animals’ feet and the premature culling of problem animals. Currently, many Holstein farmers are also expressing concern over a recent increasing prevalence of cows with straight rear legs (side view) often also involving the lack of flex in rear leg joints (spastic paresis).

The bottom line, from a genetic perspective, is that farmers do not know which sires or bloodlines to use to genetically improve their animals’ feet and locomotion.

Does the Cost of Lameness Justify More Attention?

Both North American and European dairy industry officials estimate that every case of lameness in milking cows costs between $300 and $500 in lost net lactation income. That figure does not include the lost income for the cows that do not exhibit lameness but are not performing 100% in milk production. Nor does it include the increased replacement costs due to premature culling. Managers also must add on the lost opportunities and costs associated with calves, heifers and dry cows that are lame.

The short answer is that, with half the cows having at least one lameness case of their lifetime, lameness and impaired locomotion cost the global dairy industry big time in performance and profits as well as a negative consumer image for the industry.

Common Terms Are Not Used

Universal terms are not used throughout the dairy cattle world when it comes to defining problems associated with feet and animal movement.

ICAR uses the terms lameness and locomotion with data definitions for each. ICAR recommends that they be evaluated independently. Yet in many countries, including USA, Oceana and Nordic Countries, mobility is the term used instead of locomotion. In some cases, mobility may also be considered to cover both feet and an animal’s ability to move properly.

For this article, we will not be concerned with which terms are used but rather the steps needed to genetically index and then breed animals that are superior for their feet and their locomotion.

Is it Possible to Genetically Improve Lowly Heritable Traits like Feet and Locomotion?

Where once it was considered impossible to improve traits for which the heritability is low or for which there was no data, now much has changed. It started many years ago with the capture of data for genetic defects followed by calving ease, conception rates, udder health, … plus many more. What it took to move to eliminating these negative attributes was to implement methods of data capture either by farmer observations or laboratory analysis. Once there was an adequate amount of data, genetic evaluations were conducted. Then genetic indexes were used in animal selection with positive outcomes.

Traditional Thinking for Genetically Improving Feet and Locomotion

Having breed ideals, evaluating animals compared to those ideals, and producing genetic indexes for the ideal form for feet and legs has not stopped the downward slide in the genetic merit of animals for feet and locomotion. In the USA, the genetic correlation between Feet & Leg Composite (FLC) and longevity (PL) is zero (+0.08). In Canada, only the feet and leg descriptive traits heel depth and rear legs rear view have even a low moderate positive genetic correlation (+0.30 & +0.21) with longevity (HL). Genetically evaluating feet and legs solely on body form (type classification) should not take the entire blame that genetic improvement for feet and locomotion has not occurred. Without accurate genetic information for feet and locomotion, sires with inferior parents have not been excluded from entry into A.I.

Breeding to Avoid Hoof Disease Has Started

Data for foot diseases has recently been captured and forwarded by hoof trimmers to genetic evaluation centers which have produced Holstein sire genetic indexes for Hoof Health in Canada and Nordic Countries. (Read Bullvine’s “Put Your Best Foot Forward.”)  Therefore, the process for having more useful genetic indexes for breeding healthy feet is started.

Recently published Cornell research findings from New York dairy farms shows that cows that become thin after calving are more prone to feet problems due to the loss of fat cushioning in their feet. The condition is known as loss of digital cushion thickness. Could it be that bulls that sire cows that are able to retain body condition, while early in lactation and producing heavily, are genetically superior for avoiding hoof health problems?

How Feet and Legs Function Now Drawing Attention

Currently, studies are underway in numerous universities, companies, and countries to capture lameness and locomotion data using cameras/devices/owner reporting. There are two uses for the data – on-farm animal management and conducting genetic evaluations. Of course, as with any system where genetic indexes are produced, all animals in a herd must be monitored and reported to achieve high genetic prediction accuracy. The extent of the traits evaluated varies from study to study and includes a degree of lameness, distribution of weight to each limb, back carriage, length of stride, ease of movement, … etc. One study currently underway is a survey by Lactanet on crampiness (inherited periodic spasticity) in dairy animals.

Dairy farmers can expect to see reports from these studies for both feet and locomotion in the next couple of years. The challenge then for dairy farmers will be how to interpret and use the sire indexes for the many different traits.

A Total Approach Is Need to Genetically Address Lameness and Lack of Proper Locomotion

The time has come for the silos between organizations and disciplines to come down. Silos when it comes to analyzing and combining all the data for feet and locomotion to arrive at identifying both superior and inferior animals. The scope of that data must include body parts, health/disease and the functioning of body parts. This data could also be captured and reported to genetic evaluation centers for heifers and genomic sires.

One study currently underway that combines all data areas is being led by CDCB and includes farmers, hoof trimmers, an electronic animal monitoring company and geneticists. A full description of the study can be found at  The study has put in place a total data framework for feet and locomotion covering data from the farm to the genomic profiles.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With dairy cattle breeding expanding to include health, animal care and efficiencies, the opportunity exists for all stakeholders in the milk production industry to address and support research and development on genetically improving the feet and locomotion of today’s dairy cattle.

Ultimately dairy farmers and the entire dairy cattle industry can be the winners. Lame animals and animals with inferior locomotion are dysfunctional.  The desirable genes exist in dairy cattle, it is a matter of identifying the superior animals for genetically avoiding lameness and locomotion problems.



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Dairy Bias Is Not Always BLACK and WHITE

We live in a time where pretty much anything can be seen and heard in real-time. With instant messaging and 24/7 news updates, it is easier than ever for the dairy industry to fall into making stereotypical assumptions based on a person’s gender, culture, religion, or physical attributes. The global dairy business has never been so in-the-screen-faces of their dairy consumers and their own competitors.  When the supply chain is disrupted, you know it. You see the empty food shelves?  You see the protests. When animals are mistreated, it is shown in shocking close-ups. Gender equality is instantly highlighted in the news. Instant data inspires instant analysis.  But to be fair, instant analysis can also be instantly misleading. 

Dairy Miss-Information Versus Historical His-Information

Dairying is not a male or female thing.  Everyone reading this article can point to numerous recent Blogs, Seminars, Magazine articles and Research papers to support their position. I bring this up because of the “rock and hard place” situation many of us find causing division in our own workplace.  His-story versus Her-story.  Must the work of dairying be one gender or the other? Although it is easy to acknowledge the progress of positive examples, it is impossible to eradicate bias completely.  We have all been raised with some form of gender bias. If we must play the gender card, we have already fallen into the gender trap. We either “act” like a boss knocking at the door or is the door being opened to all. Is there a welcome mat or a doormat?


Throwing out the Ladies and the Boys’ Club with the Bathwater

Sometimes the easy question asked by women is, “Are we are own problem?” The easier answer is: “We are all part of the problem.”  Female decision-makers are just as biased as men. It follows then that we are all part of the solution. Men are in positions of power where they can (and do) help the women in their organizations rise to the top. Helping anyone rise isn’t measured by a pat on the back or a verbal, “way to go!” Sometimes the most help is a informative analysis of the job requirements accompanied by the strengths and weaknesses of the person.  This opens the opportunity to improve and grow in the position. Clarity isn’t just positive, sometimes it requires recognition of what may hold the person back. Regardless of gender, workers need to be clear about qualifications, on job training, reimbursement, and incentives. The real pros and cons are not pro gender or con gender. The more we can work together to create positive change, the faster that change will happen. 


We all have been conditioned to jobs that are Ma’am power or man-power. When you see a dairy job discussed, do you have an automatic gender response?           

  • Calving
  • Bookkeeping
  • Team boss
  • Board representative
  • Expert nutritionist
  • Genetic Advisor
  • Dairy Cow Vet

Beyond the Glass Half Full

There was a time when we didn’t talk frequently about Glass Ceilings in the workplace.  Now we have added the Glass Cliff. Glass Cliff refers to the phenomenon of women in leadership roles, such as business executives in the corporate world and female candidates for political office, being more likely than men to be promoted to leadership roles during periods of crisis or downturn, when the chance of failure is highest.

We might live happily with the “Glass Half Full” but now we have “Glass Walls” and “Glass Elevators” which refer to institutional barriers that isolate some employees — traditionally women and minorities — into jobs that don’t lead to executive advancement within a business.


Headlines about the success of dairy women are nice to see and I must admit that seeing the listing of female judges at cattle shows was partially responsible for the writing of this article.  The announcement noted that “An all-female line-up of Judges from the US, UK and Canada will judge his year’s UK Dairy Expo!” For those of you who follow The Milkhouse, you may have seen the comments by a reader who noted, “A good judge is a good judge. Why are we discussing a M vs F as some difference? Kinda sad. These women are no better or worse than anyone else. They can handle the task obviously so let them and let’s stop putting them in a box.” Dairy recognizes ability … in the barn, in the board room and in the show ring.


Does your dairy put employees into silos?  What about other on or off-farm dairy interactions which you keep in their individual silos.  Now you have silo disadvantages such as: 

  • There is limited interaction with people outside of the silo.
  • Silos can lead to resistance to change.
  • People within silos may avoid cross-department collaboration.
  • Information silos, which exist when information isn’t shared between the barn, board rooms, and suppliers, can hamper dairy growth and efficiency.
  • Think of support staff like veterinary, nutrition and feed suppliers. Silos in these areas can cause duplication of effort, lack of synergy and missed opportunities.
  • Women are the best advocates for the dairy industry. Is this progress or another silo?

Silos can turn into a big problem for dairy workplace cohesion and employee engagement. They can result in weakened trust in the company’s leadership and deaden motivation for employees who end up feeling incapable of changing the culture and are left wanting more.


The salaries of women who own dairies has been reported to be 80% of the salary of male dairy farm owners.  So let’s ask the second question.  “Do male dairy farmers make more or less than the salaries of owners in non-agricultural businesses?”  It was not easy to find a statistic to answer this question. Is this bias as well or something more?


We think we know the solution to getting the best work done in the dairy industry. Clearly, it all boils down to “more”. But what are we adding up to get the success sum? More money on each dairy barn or business bottom line? More money from the government?  More perc money, trips or gifts from suppliers or customers? To remain more relevant more money is definitely a priority.

But what must happen BEFORE more money?

In dialogue with THE BULLVINE readers and our networks of dairy farmers and dairy research and business connections, we are hearing that, while the above list of things is nice, more is actually referring to three things: more workers – more workers and -more workers.  Every sector needs to have proactive productive staff ahead of everything else!


It’s simply undeniable that in virtually every hiring decision, discrimination is still quite common. There are simply too many studies out there on virtually every type of decision — hiring, housing, loan approvals, etc. showing that, if the person making the decision knows the gender or the race of the person applying, the likelihood of discrimination goes up, even when the applications are identical in every relevant way.  That is largely because of our implicit biases, something that even the most enlightened among us can easily fall into without even realizing we’re doing it.


Before we wrap this article up, it might be useful to take note of other sources that are discussing this topic:


While looking for the correct solution, you might think that technology is a non-gender answer.  But that may not be factually true either. Who takes up new technology faster?  Men or woman?  Where’s the proof of that?  If technology has a huge effect on money-making, there might be a corresponding shift in who manages it or who is allowed to manage it. The competition for productive effective labour is intensifying. It encompasses many gender issues such as:

  • Gender-neutral parental leave.
  • Access to training
  • Paid time for training.
  • Diversity hiring applied to actions.

These things are becoming true success differentiators.


We now have increasingly capable robots and artificial intelligence (AI) systems that can take on tasks that were previously only done by humans. This leaves employers with some key questions: how do we find the balance between intelligent machines and human intelligence? What roles should be given over to machines? Which roles are best suited to humans? There’s no doubt that automation will affect every industry, so dairy leaders must prepare the people and technological environments in their dairies and dairy support organizations for the changing nature of work. Change is here.  What do you fear? 

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There will always be reasons to be afraid. You could find yourself paralyzed with fear because you think your business is on the line, or you could be afraid of making a mistake and feeling ridiculed, disliked, misunderstood or just plain stupid. These fears, while normal and understandable, can also be quite destructive to growing your dairy business. Some of the most inventive and game-changing ideas have been born out of errors. Original ideas come to life when you dare to be different, keep an open mind, and have no fear of crashing and burning. This is true regardless of the gender of your team.




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