The way a cow walks is an indicator of the comfort offered by her environment, which is why locomotion scoring is included in the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program’s evaluations.
As senior manager for technical service at Land O’Lakes Cooperative, John Miles oversees the field staff and heads up the co-op’s FARM evaluation program. As a leader in animal welfare, Land O’Lakes mandates that their 3,000 members go through an on-farm evaluation conducted by a trained second-party evaluator once every three years.
The FARM evaluation includes a 48-question interview, followed by an observation of the dairy.
“We really let the animals tell us how they are being treated by this scoring system,” Miles says. “That also tells us how comfortable the cows are.”
Locomotion score is one of several categories evaluators observe. Miles tells Progressive Dairyman how locomotion scores are given and what they mean to the dairy producer.
Q: How are locomotion scores given?
MILES: We make the animal walk, and we score them on a scale of one through three. We are looking for an animal that is sound on all legs and has a normal gait. These cows score a 1. An animal that has an abnormal gait or that is a little stiff or slightly favoring one leg but not limping is a 2. A 3 is an animal that has an obvious limp and is favoring a leg.
We look specifically at dry and milking cows for locomotion scoring.
Q: What score should a dairy producer strive to achieve?
MILES: We want 95 percent of the herd to score 1 or 2.
Q: How does the scoring system reflect realistic dairy cow environments?
MILES: We have revised the FARM program every three years. In the first round of evaluations, we used a five-point scale. We realized that of all the things we looked at, locomotion score was the one most difficult to be consistent with scoring. So, we went from five points down to a three-point scale. Now, we are much more consistent among evaluators.
Also, in the first round of evaluations, we looked at locomotion in dry and milking cows as well as heifers. We realized that we needed to look specifically at dry and milking cows for locomotion because that is where problems seem to show up. When we looked at heifers, we never found them to have locomotion issues. We revised the program in 2013 and now just look at dry and milking cows.
Q: What can be done to improve locomotion score?
MILES: We ask the dairy producer questions. Do they have lameness prevention protocols? Do cows go through a footbath? Does a hoof trimmer come on a regular basis? I have seen farms change their mattresses or move to sand bedding. Others started using more bedding on top of their mattress. In some cases, they have redesigned stalls to make them bigger, changed the height of the neck rail or lengthened from the back of the stall to the neck rail.
About 40 percent of our members have gone through their second evaluation so far, and we are seeing major improvements in animal care. They are paying attention to the first evaluation and taking action to make things better.
Q: Why does locomotion score matter?
MILES: If a cow can’t get around well, she can’t get up to the bunk and eat. Locomotion is a key part of the animal being able to eat, drink and take in the nutrients she needs. Therefore, if she can’t move around, she is not going to give as much milk, so locomotion is a key issue to the dairy producer. PD
To learn more about locomotion scoring with the National Dairy FARM program, watch this video.
For more resources on the National Dairy FARM program, visit their website.