Detection & Diagnosis

Knowledge levels and the ability to detect and diagnose lameness and its causes can vary greatly between veterinarians, scientists, advisers and farmers. This means that treatment and prevention methods vary greatly too, which can result in cows going undiagnosed and untreat­ed for too long — until the case is extremely severe.

The first step towards decreasing lameness is the ability to recognise a problem, determine the incidence, level of severity and cause and then decide how best to alleviate the associated pain. This is often affected by the farm’s financial constraints, but severe welfare problems can arise if a cow is left to suffer. Record keeping is a valuable tool to help the farmer devise prevention or treatment regimes to improve the situation.

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For an advisor, veterinarian or hoof trimmer, completing a farm survey both before and after assessing lameness problems on a farm can be very valuable. There would be little use in filling in a survey after assessing cows and putting them on a prevention regime without a pre-assessment record; it would be impossible to compare whether the situation improved. Farm surveys, such as the one provided in the appendix, can quickly tell you about the cows, parlour, daily routines, housing, existing trimming or foot bathing regimes, the current hoof health status and other general information.

Early detection

Early detection is essential in order to prevent cows suffering, but learning to recognise a lameness problem is not an easy task. Farmers should be fully trained and sensitised to the importance and severity of lameness. The most effective way to detect lameness is by watch­ing your cows daily for clues that something could be wrong. The indication may be small, but it could be something affecting the whole herd that has gone unnoticed. Try to “see” lameness by asking yourself what your cows are showing you. Watch them rise and lie down, their lying pattern, their feeding pattern, etc. Whenever possible, check if certain cubicles are not used, how many cows lie versus stand and regularly check hooves.

Dairy managers typically underestimate the incidence of lameness on their farm as demon­strated by a study in Kansas City, US. While trying to document what constitutes good and bad hoof management practices on farms, McKinzie et al (2005) found that on average the Farms had 28 percent lameness whereas the owners estimated just six percent!

Various manual aids exist to help identify lame cows, including locomotion scoring and hoof scoring. The extent of a firm’s lameness problem can also be graded according to how many cows are affected at any one time (Esslemont and Kossaibati, 2002).

  •         A (a good target) would indicate that around 9 percent or fewer animals are affected
  •         B (tolerable) indicates 9-20 percent are affected
  •         C (problem) indicates that 21-36 percent are affected
  •         D (considered a major problem) indicates over 36 percent of animals are affected by lameness.

When you look at today’s average statistics for lameness and consider that around 25 percent of animals are said to be affected, it’s clear this is a problem on most farms.

Information kindly provided by DeLaval UK