Lameness rates on dairies around the world average around 25%, as stated at the 2022 Lameness in Ruminants Conference; this percentage has not changed over the past few decades. As an industry, there have been enormous improvements in milk quality, milk production and reproduction over the past decade, but industry-level lameness rates have stayed the same. Collectively, the dairy industry must do better to improve lameness on dairies. The public’s perception of the dairy industry is under a microscope, and as industry professionals we are entrusted with the well-being of dairy cattle.

Erickson lee
Consultant / Hoof Care Technician

Fortunately, there are dairies that have made huge strides toward lowering their lameness rates. In fact, well-managed dairies, both large and small, are able to achieve success in lowering their lameness rates to 2% for noninfectious lesions (sole ulcers and white-line lesions) and 1% of infectious diseases (foot rot and digital dermatitis). How is this accomplished? While there are endless variables on these dairies, they do have one thing in common. They implement the three D's to tackling lameness on the dairy – dedication, data analysis and daily treatment of lameness.

Dedication from management/owners to adopt a no-lameness-tolerance policy 

It takes a team approach to reduce lameness on the dairy. Owners must be willing to purchase quality hoof trimming equipment and supplies to make it easier to do a good, effective hoof trimming job. Managers must set aside time to make sure hoof trimming follows a timely schedule. This includes rechecking lame cows (around five weeks after treatment) to ensure they recover, verifying the block stayed on and that treatment protocols were effective. These rechecks are important as they help hoof trimmers gain experience and increase their abilities to provide superior lame cow treatment. Feed management must also be taken into consideration. It is imperative to harvest and store only the highest quality of feeds and to be consistent in doing so.

Be willing to make changes that benefit the cow. If it is good for the cow, it is good for the business. This includes cultivating an environment that promotes cow comfort, taking into consideration heat abatement, stall design, stockmanship and stocking density.

Data reports tell the story of lameness

Clear and concise data will guide dairy producers on the journey to reduce lameness. It is important to note that too much data is not good and clouds the picture. Remember this: If the following seven lesions are recorded, it is easy to see where improvements are needed.

  • Digital dermatitis 
  • Foot rot
  • Sole ulcer 
  • White-line abscess 
  • Toe ulcers 
  • Sole fractures
  • Thin soles

The included figures are from a 600-cow dairy with 2X milking. The herd averages 95 to 100 pounds a day. First-, second- and third-lactation animals are trimmed one time per year at dry-off. Others are trimmed at dry-off and 110 to 145 days in milk (DIM). All the figures are tracking the first lesion of each lactation.

Tracking these lesions by date (Figure 1) demonstrates the seasonality of lameness in the herd. Tracking by DIM (Figure 2) provides clarity as to when cows get lame within their lactation. Tracking by lactation or parity (Figure 3) explains which age group of cows is getting lame.



Daily treatment of lame cows

Lame cows cannot wait. If mastitis is treated daily, lame cows can also be treated daily. Quick treatment leads to faster recovery and minimal necrosis, which makes it easier for cows to recover quickly. This also leads to less permanent damage done when compared to lame cows that must wait to be treated. In short, treating lame cows daily results in less chronically lame cows. This also means cows will lose less bodyweight and, in turn, lose less milk per lameness incident.

There are no shortcuts for reducing lameness rates on dairy farms. It takes a lot of hard work and cooperation from the dairy farm team, but it is well worth the effort to reach the goal of 1% to 2% lameness on the dairy. We owe it to our animals to provide the best care. Let us be dedicated to the cause, use data to prevent lameness and if we have a lame cow, treat her right away.

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.