Identifying lame cows is the first step in dealing with the dairy industry’s most important animal welfare issue. How does lameness affect lying behaviour? Could continuously-recorded lying time be used to help identify lame cows?
Results of a study of 36 herds with automated milking systems in Québec, Ontario, Alberta and Michigan identified some of the main risk factors for lameness in those herds. The authors of the study conclude that, for the prevention of lameness, more attention needs to be be paid to providing free stalls of appropriate size for the cows in the herd.
Dr. Ernest Hovingh, an Extension Veterinarian at Penn State University, has contributed 2 excellent webinars on dairy cattle lameness. Both webinars extend from details of hoof anatomy to best management practices aimed at promoting hoof health.
According to Dr. Nigel Cook, achieving a high level of herd performance and controlling lameness go hand-in-hand.
“You cannot manage your herd successfully unless you manage lameness,” he said. “It undermines everything you try to do. It impacts the way the cow behaves, the way she walks, the way she eats, the way she rests. It impacts reproduction and increases the risk for early removal.”
In a survey of 22 intensively managed, high-producing commercial dairies in Wisconsin, Cook compared lameness prevalence to that of cows kept primarily on pasture.
A study at the University of BC showed how neck rail placement affects cows’ ability to stand in their stalls. The closer the neck rail was to the rear curb, the more time cows spent standing with only the front hooves in the stall and the less time they were able to stand with all 4 hooves in the stall. When cows were housed with the neck rails at 190 cm, gait score improved; at 130 cm, gait score worsened.
Pasture rearing can improve hoof health, perhaps due to the change in the physical environment or to associated factors such as change in diet. Fewer cows become lame during the grazing season and cows kept outdoors are less prone to claw disorders than those that are housed indoors. Despite these advantages in hoof health, switching from indoor housing to pasture is not a practical option for many producers. But providing a rest period on pasture for lame cows may be a more practical option.
Researchers in Sweden investigated the long-term effects of different flooring systems on the weight distribution, contact area and contact pressure on the claws of dairy cows housed in a free-stall barn.
A study conducted at the University of Munich, Germany compared the effects of rubber-matted versus slatted concrete flooring on claw health and milk yield in loose-housed dairy cows.