Ever stubbed your toe? If you have, you will clearly understand how that lame cow in your herd is affected by the throbbing pain in her foot — or feet.
The kick-off meeting of Cornell PRO-Dairy’s ‘Don’t Be Lame!’ workshop, held at the Talley-Ho Restaurant in Richfield Springs, NY, attracted a standing-room-only attendance.
“I’m sure most everyone here has read different articles in different dairy magazines about lameness and how some of us probably become a little bit immune to cows being lame and cows being slightly lame,” said David R. Balbian, CNY CCE Dairy Specialist. “We start to almost accept them as normal — and it’s hurting us financially. We also want to think about consumer perception,” Balbian added.
Improving hoof health in cows directly impacts their overall performance even including reproduction, as was shown by speakers Lindsay Ferlito, NNY Regional Dairy Specialist, Cornell University Cooperative Extension; Robert A. Lynch, DVM, Dairy Herd Health & Management Specialist, Cornell University PRO-DAIRY; Chip Hendrickson, Hoof Care Technical Expert, AgroChem, Inc.; and Neil Andrew, Account Manager, Northeast Zinpro Corporation.
Early detection, intervention and treatment decrease recovery time, prevent premature culling and improve overall cow comfort.
Chip Hendrickson has been trimming cows for 35 years. He reported lameness in cows is second only to mastitis in terms of its detrimental effects on productivity.
He spoke to attendees in depth about being discerning when observing your cows, or better yet, if possible, having a helper whose job is primarily observing the cows when they are returning from milking and scoring them according to the Locomotion Dairy Scoring of Dairy Cattle protocol, where head bobbing and back arching are key clues to lameness.
“How much does it cost to repair that cow and get her back on her feet?” Hendrickson asked. “If I can catch that cow before she’s not eating right, before her milk drops, before all of these other things occur…”
Hendrickson said it costs about $350 in financial loss for each lame cow that is not attended to before she hits a 3 score on the Locomotion Dairy Scoring key.
“Locomotion scoring is based on the observation of cows standing and walking (gait), with special emphasis on their back posture,” explained Hendrickson.
The Locomotion Scoring chart grades cows on a scale of 1 (normal) – 5 (severely lame).
“We need to think about finding these cows, recognizing these cows between a 2 and a 3,” Hendrickson advised. “It just takes a little bit of training to do it. Lameness severely compromises the welfare of affected animals and may be the single most common cause of distress.”
A maintenance trim can often fix a lame cow — however, not every cow needs to be trimmed.
Digital dermatitis and sole ulcers lead the list of diseases causing lameness, with white line disease following as a close third. Proper identification of lesions is a priority before treatment is activated.
Hendrickson advised attendees on the importance of using a footbath, pointing out that location and size are important aspects to consider. “A 6–8 foot bath has a lot less manure. Cleanliness is the key!” He also added that although there are a lot of different products to add to the footbath, he is unable to make any recommendations. “It’s all about results! Every farm should have someone trained to evaluate and treat lame cows safely and effectively.”
“A lot of research has been conducted to determine the best footbath length, the right protocols, the best products, and so on,” remarked Hendrickson. “After several years in the field, I’ve come to the conclusion that no single size, protocol or product is right for everyone. Every dairy farm is different, and the people most qualified to advise you on footbaths are your hoof trimmer and veterinarian. They will recommend a hoof care protocol that’s right for your herd — not just any herd — and help you get the results you want.”
Neil Andrew advised attendees on the economic impact of lameness in dairy cows.
Research supports the evidence of the negative impact that lameness has on reproduction in dairy cows. In a 100-cow dairy, 30 to 60 cows will be treated over the period of 1 year. It is shown that cows treated for lameness are open 28 more days than cows that were not lame. Cows lame between 36 and 70 days postpartum are open 30 days longer.
“Early detection of lameness and timely, proper treatment of lameness can greatly reduce the economic impact of a lameness event by reducing milk loss, loss of reproductive performance, treatment cost, involuntary cull rates, and increasing salvage value,” Andrew said.
Lindsay Ferlito spoke to attendees on how facility management practices impact lameness and how to manage facilities to avoid lameness.
“Everyone knows it but we have to just keep saying it; cow comfort impacts profitability,” said Ferlito. “Getting her to lie down, having her free of injuries, giving her that rest at the time she needs it to be productive.”
Ferlito described all of the things in the cow’s daily life that impacts her comfort and well-being, including ventilation, stall design, bedding, floor designs, her watering area, feeding area, cow cooling area and more.
“Cows must be willing to enter their stall, be able to rest and get up and out without slipping.”
The four natural positions of cows at rest were discussed and Ferlito reminded attendees that the stalls should be designed so cows are able to achieve any of the four positions comfortably. “The stalls must be big enough,” Ferlito emphasized. “Holsteins are bigger!”
Studies by Dr. Rick Grant show that there is a direct, positive correlation between the resting behavior of cows and milk production, with 3.5 lb. more milk produced for each extra hour of rest.
“Cows should be lying down. Increased standing time equals increased lameness.”
If you are seeing cows perched on the edge of their stalls; the stall is not comfortable for her. “Perching indicates too aggressive neck rails. Neck rail position affects lameness!”
Studies show cows are directly affected by the way they stand in their stalls, this is affected by neck rails.
Access to feed is another consideration. “Look at the design of your feed bunk,” advised Ferlito. “Can she actually, physically, get to her feed without stress from the neck rail?”
Deep sand bedding seems to promote the most resting time for cows studied, however, and deep bedding that is kept clean will promote more lying time.
Ferlito suggests tracking the lying behavior of each cow 1–2 hours after milking to observe their comfort level in the stall. Cows getting up and down and changing position every 15 minutes indicates discomfort.
Average lying time is about 10.9 hours. The goal is 12 hours or 50 percent of the day for lying.
Time away from the pen also affects cow comfort, resting time and lameness.
Watering areas should be monitored for easy accessibility and clean fresh water should be available at all times. Heat stress in summer months also needs to be closely monitored.
Floor design is extremely important and proper traction is paramount.
Ferlito said lower lameness is associated with deep bedded stalls, clean stalls and alley ways, access to pasture, lower stall stocking density and routine hoof trimming and footbaths.
“Most facilities can be managed to reduce lameness,” commented Ferlito. “The key things are to make sure cows have access to clean, well-bedded stalls, and clean alleyways with traction, and ensure cows are given adequate access to stalls and feed in the pen — by not overcrowding or straining time budget. Continually keep an eye on your lameness prevalence, and enlist the help of resources available to you, such as your consultants or a Cornell Cooperative Extension specialist.”
Dr. Robert Lynch spoke to attendees about humane culling decisions, transportation protocol, handling of non-ambulatory cows and practical euthanasia practices.
“Current law holds farm owners and slaughterhouses solely responsible for the care of animals in conjunction with slaughter,” said Lynch.
Lynch instructed attendees that humanely dealing with euthanasia is one of the responsibilities dairy farmers take on as caretakers of cattle.
“Make sure the farm has a euthanasia protocol in place and that anyone on the farm that might be asked to complete that task is properly trained,” instructed Lynch.
Ken Krutz, General Manager of Empire Livestock attended the workshop.
“Lameness affects the marketability of an animal because of several factors,” remarked Krutz. “Buyers look at the animal and wonder if it will be condemned. Does it have further muscle damage? Will it be able to make the trip to the market and survive? Has it been treated recently? Has the weight loss caused her to be invaluable? They then bid accordingly based on their analysis. A producer could see a large reduction in price. A lame cow at the market is difficult as well. They are harder to move. They can be meaner because they are uncomfortable. They are what the public could perceive as the norm. They die from the stress. It is difficult for some producers to look at a dairy animal and remember that she has a value after milk. Lameness devalues that animal after milk.”
“Over time I think many of us accept moderately lame cows as ‘normal’ because they do not have a ‘noticeable limp’ and we see so many of them. They seem ‘normal’ to us, when in fact they have some issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later,” concluded Balbian.