FOUR months of depressed yield before a cow is showing any clinical signs of foot problems – coupled with poor fertility and mastitis – means a lame cow can generate a loss of £500 in terms of treatment and milk income.
And at the current rate of lameness in UK herds that could be costing individual dairy farmers as much as 1p for every litre of milk produced.
Those were the stark facts presented to farmers at Clive Hall Farm’s (Cheshire’s Dairy Monitor Farm) last discussion group meeting, which is delivered through Reaseheath College, Cheshire.
DairyCo mobility specialist Jo Speed explained the importance of early detection of lameness by adopting regular mobility scoring as part of routine herd management.
“Identifying lameness at the earliest stage, well before a cow shows obvious mobility problems, can mean avoiding substantial and unnecessary losses caused by associated health problems.
“A cow’s yield can be adversely affected by lameness for four months before it’s actually identified – and during that time many of the associated health issues have already started to take effect and have a compounded impact on the animal’s performance,” said Jo.
She told dairy farmers that veterinary research had shown that a cow with a lameness problem in her heifer lactation was three-times more likely to be lame in her second lactation.
Jo Speed (left of picture) at Clive Hall Farm
“A cow with a sole ulcer – which is like walking around with a stone in your shoe – is the most serious in terms of welfare, as well as resulting in lost revenue.
“Research has shown that a cow with a sole ulcer can cause losses totalling £519; cows with white-line disease and digital dermatitis are more treatable but can still rack up costs of £323 – and 83% of that figure is caused by lost yield.
“Other costs are incurred including veterinary treatment, increased labour and higher culling and replacement costs. And lame cows are also more susceptible to other infections simply because their immune system is being challenged,” said Jo.
Lame cows have a longer interval between calving to first service and data from monitored herds has shown there’s a 100-day interval between calving and conception where cows are suffering from foot problems. Pregnancy rate to first service is also 10.4 days longer in lame cows.
“The aim should not only be to reduce the number of lame cows in a herd but also to improve the herd’s overall mobility and to identify lameness as early as possible and take effective action,” said Jo Speed.
The StepMetrix is one of the latest technological advances in identifying lameness and dairy farmers at the event were told that although costing £25,000 – and there were two units currently in use on UK farms – it was providing a valuable method of monitoring cow mobility.
“The StepMetrix provides a platform for the cow to walk over which in turn measures the way she is walking and detects any imbalances in her movement. The equipment assesses if the cow is “paddling” or “leaning” on any particular foot and produces a reading that is in effect a mobility score,” Jo explained.
Dairy farmers at the Livestock Northwest event also heard that more supermarket milk contracts demanded a lower level of lameness in the herds of their suppliers.
“Undertaking routine mobility scoring not only improves welfare but is also having a direct impact on margins by avoiding losses associated with lameness.
“Mobility scoring is easy to apply to any herd. There are four scores. The “zero” and “one” score applies to cows that are perfectly sound and showing no signs of lameness. Score “two” cows are the ones that really need to be identified.
“These are the ones that may appear a little stiff or show some abnormality of movement. They may also demonstrate untrue tracking – which refers to them failing to show correct and level movement where the back feet “track” or land in the same place as the front feet.
“Another indicator is the arched back or a nodding head associated with pain from the foot. An arched back isn’t always a sign of lameness and may be linked to some other form of trauma or calving damage.”
Jo Speed said farmers had to ask themselves if the cows they considered fell into the score “two” category would benefit from treatment?
“In most cases these cows do need treatment and it’s the most critical stage in order to prevent further deterioration of the problem.
“Ten years ago, when I was trimming cows’ feet these score “two” cows wouldn’t have been singled out for treatment – but now we know they have to be dealt with to prevent them falling into a score “three” category.
Farmers were urged not to regard mobility scoring as “another industry gimmick”.
“It really can have a major effect by lowering a herd’s incidence of lameness simply by prioritising cows with mobility issues. As well as treatment there are preventative measures such as regular foot-bathing which should become part of routine lameness management.
“If farmers began to rate the level of infection caused by digital dermatitis in the same way they regard mastitis, it could be far more effectively dealt with and would make foot-bathing a routine year-round practice.”