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Identifying lameness in advance of breeding

In this article, FRS discusses identifying lameness in dairy cows in advance of breeding and provides tips on how to keep cows’ feet in good conditions.

With the breeding season fast approaching, now is the time for farmers to ensure that their cows are ready for the weeks ahead.

Along with setting farm targets and keeping an eye on body score conditioning, farmers must also turn their attention to hoof care and addressing any lameness issues in the herd.

Clinical and subclinical lameness

Lameness is where an animal has a pain in their leg or foot, and it impacts how they walk. There are two types of lameness: clinical and subclinical.

Clinical lameness is more obvious where the farmer can see a limp or if the animal is having difficulty standing on all four feet. Subclinical lameness is harder is identify.

Farmers should watch out for an arched back while walking or standing, stiff joints, taking short steps or standing with their front legs crossed.

Also, farmers need to detect lameness as early as possible as it is not only a problem for the health of the cow but it can also lead to financial loss for the farm business.

Farmers will see a direct cost of animal lameness in milk withdrawal, milk loss, weight loss and vet bills.

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However, indirectly it can be a bigger issue as lameness can affect heat detection and contribute to fertility issues for the cow. At this stage, you may require extra services, and in some cases, you may need to cull the animal.

Keep feet in good condition

An animal’s feet need to be kept in good condition for the animal to function correctly and be healthy and profitable. We have created some guidelines for farmers to follow.

Firstly, farmers need to consider the pathways that their animals are taking. The quality of farm roadways is crucial to maintaining healthy feet.

Keep roadways and cow paths in good condition and recondition areas that erode easily with fine gravel. Make sure animals have easy access to food and water.

Freshly-calved cows should avoid walking long distances for 48 hours as this allows the pedal bone time to settle back.

Unsettled weather conditions can also play a factor in increasing the risk of lameness. Where the weather has been wet with a lot of rainfall, the foot can soften, and stones could get stuck in the hoof. Farmers need to be aware of this and monitor their animals around the time of heavy rainfalls.

Around the yard, hygiene plays an integral part in keeping animals healthy.

It is recommended to regularly scrap passageways and remove the build-up of slurry in any areas. Also, check for the pooling of water around the yard as this may house bacteria.

When moving and handling animals, do not rush them or cause extra stress. Observe cows as they walk on flat ground and take immediate action if there are any lameness signs.

How FRS can help you

We would recommend that farmers contact FRS at the onset of any lameness, especially coming into the breeding season, but strongly advocate that a routine hoof health check is done on the herd twice a year.

Our hoof care technicians will advise you on what may be causing lameness problems and, most importantly, what steps you can take to help prevent the problem in the future.

FRS provides an expert hoof care service to farmers. FRS operators are following the current Covid-19 guidelines to safeguard the health and safety of customers and themselves.

You can find out more about hoofcare, lameness in dairy cows and your local FRS office.

Alternatively, you can find more articles from FRS.       

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