Spotting lame cows can be a struggle when you see the same herd every day and picking out cows with sub-clinical lameness, allowing them to be treated before showing symptoms, is next to impossible.
But a Bristol dairy farm is managing just that thanks to an innovative automatic lameness detector at the exit to the parlour.
The result of installing the StepMetrix system had been more than £18,000 of savings in the first six months of operation, claimed BouMatic Marketing Manager, Russ Cavanagh at a Tackling Lameness Workshop, Two Pools Farm, Bristol.
“In the first six month period since StepMetrix has been used on the 320-cow herd at Two Pools Farm, the total savings amounted to £18,904. The number of primary lame lesions dropped from 170 to 144, resulting in a saving of £14,104. This included abscesses dropping from six to zero and sole ulcers almost halving. This, combined with a drop from eight to two cows being culled due to lameness, also saved another £4800,” said Mr Cavanagh.
StepMetrix is the only automated lameness detection system and according to farm owner Chris King, it is one of the most worthwhile tools they have invested in.
“Before we had it installed in 2007, we were having increasing issues with lameness and needed to do something about it. Although installing StepMetrix was initially driven by Marks and Spencer policy to try to improve cow welfare, we wouldn’t be without it now.”
The system allows cows to be checked and treated, even before symptoms of lameness appear, which has also identified specific groups at Two Pools Farm where lameness was proving to be a particular issue, sparking further investigations.
“When looking at cows having the most problems it became clear it was in specific groups,” said Mr King. “We were then able to pinpoint the problems to specific areas in the building, highlighting problems with the concrete flooring and the feed barrier height, which we’ve since rectified.”
The self-contained platform is installed in parlour exit alleys. The tool measures the force and duration of the cows step and calculates an SMX score for each back leg.
The SMX score measures from zero to 100. Anything under 37 would be fine, but anything more than 37 should be looked at or monitored using the software. Anything more than 50 should definitely be looked at, said Mr Cavanagh.
“The SMX scoring system can be viewed on a computer, providing daily tracking of each cow in the herd. Cows walk over the device every milking, but it does not hold up cow flow,” he said.
Although this tool will set you back £30,000, the payback can be as little as two years, as demonstrated at Two Pools.
The figures stacked up with this tool, commented Mr King. “As long as you have the right people using the tool, by acting on what it tells you, then it is definitely a worthy investment. Nutrition and lameness interact, forming the basis for everything else,” he said.
Agreeing early lameness detection was vital not only for cow welfare, but also for minimising costs, was lameness expert and vet Nick Bell.
“The causes of lameness from sole ulcers and white line disease can begin up to three months before any prominent symptoms of lameness are seen and after treatment can persist for another four months. So treating cows before they go lame, which tools like StepMetrix can help with, is essential.
“When you consider the cost of severe lameness cases can be as much as £178 a case from lost milk yield and fertility to name just two, then investment to try to prevent it in the first place is worth it,” said Dr Bell.
It was estimated that about 10-20% of cows in the UK had sole ulcers, added Dr Bell. “Not only are they incredibly painful, but when caught early enough they could be prevented. Trimming the foot early on, enabling the walls to bear most of the weight, will take pressure off the sole ulcer site,” he said.
The StepMetrix system allows cows to be checked and treated, even before symptoms of lameness appear.