Reducing lameness in dairy cows

By Jamie Salter

Do you find that your dairy cows have a higher incidence of lameness on your farm than you would like?

Farmers are using prevention, early detection and treatment of lameness to achieve better outcomes in cow comfort, improved milk production and better reproductive performance of their dairy herd.

Important things to consider to minimise the incidence of lameness in dairy cows are good laneways, reducing time spent on concrete and reducing pressure on cows during movement.

Prolonged exposure to moisture causes the hoof to soften, making bruising, penetration injuries and white-line disease more common.

The skin between the claws and around the foot also softens and macerates, leaving the skin more prone to infections such as footrot.

The higher bacterial loads present in wet muddy environments add to the problem.

A good laneway can be built by selecting a suitable foundation and with suitable surface materials, so it stands up to the constant cow traffic and damage by rain and excess water.

Select a material for the surface layer that won’t damage the cows’ hooves, but which will also repel and run water off the laneway, helping to keep it dryer and last longer.

The surface layer needs to be crowned to assist with water runoff.

Good drainage for your laneway is also very important.

It needs to collect water runoff and divert it correctly to increase the life of your laneway.

The drain should be fenced off so cattle can not walk in it and plug it up, which will reduce its effectiveness.

Farmers find that regular maintenance to the laneway surface is best as it helps increase its life and avoid costly repairs to the foundation layer.

Any further reductions in time spent on concrete for cows will assist in reducing the lameness of dairy cattle.

To help reduce the incidence of acidosis, ensure cows are receiving adequate effective fibre and a precise allocation of grain.

A well-balanced diet for the dairy cow will include adequate fibre, which helps to buffer the rumen pH.

Rumen buffers and/or modifiers may also be required depending on the level of grain feeding to reduce the rumen pH and reduce the incidence of acidosis in the dairy herd.

The use of footbaths and reducing mud in high traffic areas can help reduce the incidence of lameness in some cases.

By Agriculture Victoria dairy extension officer Ash Michael