Plan to prevent lameness

Plan to prevent lameness
By George Watson, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets Morrinsville

Lame cows within the milking herd are inconvenient for farm staff as well as being extremely costly to a dairy enterprise in terms of reduced production, increased risk of mastitis and a higher likelihood of being not-in-calf at the end of the lactation. All of these factors can result in higher than expected rates of culling from the herd. More importantly though, lame cows are a serious welfare concern and this can affect the public’s perception of your farm and the New Zealand dairy industry as whole. Once a cow develops lameness a reduction in voluntary feed intake occurs, the degree of which is usually proportionate to the severity of the lameness a cow is experiencing. Lame cows also often spend far longer each day laying down and are more likely than non-lame cows to do so in highly contaminated areas such as the milking yard, race and feed pads amongst other locations. This results in loss of body condition which has a knock-on negative effect on milk production and reproduction/fertility. In addition the teat ends face a higher than normal exposure to mastitis causing bacteria in the environment which can lead to both clinical and subclinical mastitis cases rising.

Now is the time to begin planning and budgeting (mid-late lactation) for the lameness prevention and treatment in the next lactation. By taking the time to plan now it will help reduce the risk of herd lameness being a major constraint on your business’s productivity next season.

In order to be able to know how big a problem lameness is on your farm, and so be able to budget properly, you need to have a good understanding of:
  • how many cases of lameness you get in the herd (and when they occur)
  • the main lesions/causes of lameness in your herd
  • the main risk factors for lameness on your farm.
This is where we can help. An Anexa Veterinarian can visit your farm to take a look at your facilities and the lameness information you have gathered, identify any major risk factors and develop a plan to manage them so that lameness is minimised as much as possible.

Factors that may be identified include:

  • Milking shed entries and exits that involve excessively tight turns
  • Races that are too narrow for the size of herd – disrupts cows social order and prevents them being able to place their feet to avoid stones and other causes of injury
  • Areas of concrete or track that are rough, broken, contain stones/rocks or other hard/sharp objects
  • Excessive use of dogs, backing gates or poor stockmanship that disrupts cow social order or causes skating of cows hooves across concrete
  • Nutritional deficiencies such as zinc and other trace minerals that cause poor hoof horn growth
  • Excessively muddy or manure contaminated race, yard entrances/exits, feed pads or watering points – think drainage and camber of these areas.
As always, prevention is better than cure. High return on investment in prevention can be expected due to increased production from cows that may otherwise have been lame in previous seasons, reduced expenditure on antibiotics, hoof trimming and shoeing as well as better pregnancy rates at the end of mating. However some lameness cases are unavoidable and some expenditure on these aspects of animal health should still be budgeted for.

If one of your goals for 2020 is to reduce lameness on farm, talk to your Anexa Vet, we’re here to help.


Date Added: Friday, 7th February 2020


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