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The dos and don’ts of lameness prevention in your dairy herd

Can careful cow handling reduce the number of lameness cases in a dairy herd?

That is the question being posed by Ger Cusack, acting chair of the Hoof HealthCheck Technical Working Group at Animal Health Ireland (AHI) in the body’s June 2023 bulletin.

The most common conditions that we see during the grazing season causing lameness are sole bruising and white line damage, he writes in the hoof healthcheck programme leaflet.

Both conditions occur because of trauma to the sole of the cow’s foot.

This trauma can be a single event, such as a cow standing on a sharp stone on a concrete surface.

The impact on the foot of this shape stone can cause bruising or penetration of the white line leading to white line damage and the risk of a white line access.

Equally, small traumas to the sole of the foot can, over time, damage the white line.

Small stones or grit can gradually penetrate through the white line, reach the quick and cause an inflammatory reaction resulting in lameness.

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White Line Disease

Reducing the traumas and keeping the impact of those traumas to a minimum will help reduce the number of lameness cases that occur on your farm, he suggests.

In the farmer information bulletin, he outlined how you can prevent lameness in your herd:

Cow behaviour to consider to prevent lameness in the herd:

  • Cows check the ground surface, place the front foot in a safe, even place and the hind foot in the same place when given the time and space to do so;
  • Cows walk with their heads in a low position, checking the ground in front of them. If cows are packed in too tightly on a cow roadway, their heads are up on the back of the cows in front of them, and therefore, they are not able to check the ground and choose a safe spot to place their foot;
  • Cows have a walking order on the roadway, and this differs from their milking order. When entering the collecting yard, cows need time and space to rearrange themselves before entering the milking parlour.

So, how can we minimize the traumas and impact forces that cows’ feet experience?

He suggests giving cows:

  • Time – Allow cows to walk at their own pace;
  • Space – Room in the yards and on the roadways.

The do’s and don’ts of lameness prevention

  • Do not push or rush cows on roadways with a dog or quad bike;
  • Do allow cows to exit the milking parlour at their own pace and walk directly to their next paddock;
  • Do not hold cows in the collecting yard or yards any longer than is necessary;
  • Do consider using a Batt Latch (a remote-controlled gap-opening device) that allows the cows to exit the paddock and walk to the milking parlour at their own pace.

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