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Early detection is key to stay on top of lameness and prevent lower milk yields - particularly for producers on a robotic system. Dairy farmers pay high price for lameness

Early detection is key to stay on top of lameness and prevent lower milk yields – particularly for producers on a robotic system.

Lameness remains one of the highest costs to a dairy business – despite a range of industry initiatives to reduce it among  UK herds, says Wynnstay dairy specialist Beth May.

“A lame cow will stand more, eat less and ultimately have less energy left over for milk production,” explains Miss May.

Moderately or mildly lame cows produce about 4-9% less milk than a healthy cow – a daily loss of about 1.5 litres. With the average 200-cow herd running at 30% lameness, this is equivalent to 48,500 litres of lost milk worth £13,600.

Miss May says: “This is not considering the other long-term impacts lameness has on fertility, culling rate, number of replacements needed on-farm, additional labour, trimming and vet’s bills.”

For robotic herds, Miss May says it is critical to keep a close eye on early cases. Lame cows in a robotic system are likely to need fetching more for milking, so it will impact the average number of visits and therefore milk yield.

“As you don’t see the cows walking to the parlour on a daily basis, there’s less visual inspection of the cow’s mobility and hoof condition. To get on top of cases requires an early, proactive, preventative approach rather than reactionary cures.”

Miss May says there are numerous  ways for producers to keep lameness cases at bay.

“Consider monthly locomotion scoring or mobility scoring sessions with an accredited scorer to assess your current level of lameness and help pick out any cows for early treatment.”

Wynnstay advises recording at least 10% of the herd on a monthly basis, near the exit of the robot, where they can be observed walking to a cubicle or feed fence. Results should be tracked to monitor problem cows and those who may be borderline.

“Assessing in low pressure areas of the shed, such as loafing areas or wide passageways will allow you to assess cows walking freely and will give a more accurate record,” suggests Miss May.

Hoof trimming should only be done because of overgrowth or trauma to the hoof, she adds.

 “They’re only overgrown or damaged because something in the environment is not right.”

Read more about the micronutrients crucial to prevent lameness.