Lameness Risks on Alberta Dairy Farms

By Laura Solano on

Alberta’s Lameness Reduction Initiative (LRI) revolves around completion of a lameness risk assessment questionnaire (RAQ), designed to identify housing and management factors that contribute to the development of hoof lesions. The RAQ is conducted by the farm manager accompanied by the herd veterinarian who has been trained in the process and updated in current knowledge about dairy cattle lameness.

The RAQ addresses risks for both infectious and non-infectious causes of lameness in 8 sections related to biosecurity measures, hooftrimming records, and facilities and management of 3 animal groups: pregnant heifers, dry cows and lactating cows. Answers to questions have categorical scores (2–4 categories); higher scores being associated with increased risk. A maximum of 3 management/facility changes that the producer and the veterinarian agree upon are recorded in a management plan.

A copy of the RAQ is available here; the RAQ user guide is here.

Between September 2016 and July 2018, 116 RAQs had been completed with the results compiled in a customized MS Access database.

The specific risk factors identified most frequently on participating farms were related to:

  1. poor comfort of the lying surface (84% of farms had mattress, rubber, waterbed or concrete as stall base and 65% of farms used less than 2 inches of bedding depth);
  2. lax biosecurity (76% of farms do not require visitors to wear disinfected, disposable or farm-supplied boots or coveralls);
  3. poor footbathing practices (on 90% of farms, dry cows or close-up cows do not walk through a footbath, 74% of farms had a footbath shorter than 10 ft, and 70% of farms do not rinse cows’ feet before entering the footbath), and;
  4. poor comfort of flooring with risk of trauma (on 70% and 46% of farms, cows stand on concrete while waiting to be milked and are required to make sharp turns as they travel to or from the milking parlour).

The most frequently proposed changes by veterinarians were related to:

  1. hooftrimming protocol (i.e. keep foot lesion records, buy a trim chute, increase frequency and optimize timing of trimming);
  2. footbathing practices and infectious lameness control (i.e. modify frequency, concentration, refill of footbath products, change footbath design and set up, increase scraping frequency), and;
  3. management practices for pregnant heifers and dry cows (i.e. more bedding, run dry/close-up cows through footbath, reduce stocking density, examine/trim hooves).

The table below summarizes results from the 116 RAQs completed by July 2018.

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