Lameness in dairy cows

Lameness is an important issue for the dairy industry in New Zealand (NZ) with huge numbers of cows seen by veterinarians each year.

A study from Taranaki published in 2008 found that the most common lameness conditions were White Line Disease (42%) and sole injuries (29.1%). These two conditions are caused primarily by poorly maintained laneways and by pushing cows too fast to the milking shed.

A laneway which promotes healthy feet is one which is well maintained, especially in the 300m closest to the shed. An optimum laneway would have no sharp bends, a non-abrasive surface (such as sandstone), and be well draining. It is important that the entrance to the shed doesn’t promote fear in the cows (remove stray voltage, slippery concrete) so cow flow into the shed is fluid. Stones should be kept clear from the concrete areas as these can penetrate the sole.

Cows need to walk to the shed at their own pace, without pressure from workers. Those which are hurried by motorbikes or dogs are unable to place their feet properly which leads to slipping and twisting. When they are pushed up against cows in front they will raise their heads and shorten their strides, both increasing the risk of lameness.

Other conditions were found to be much less common in the NZ study - axial wall lesions (13.1%), footrot (8.3%), sole ulcers (1.4%) and conditions outside of the foot (5.5%). Footrot is an infectious condition and is prevented by reducing wet and muddy areas around the farm. But where it is an excessive problem foot baths (copper sulphate or formalin) can be used to reduce the spread.

Talk to your veterinarian about ways to reduce the lame mob on your farm through treatment and management practices.

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