26 July 2002

NEARLY 80% of dairy farms need to take action to control lameness, according to a recent RSPCA-funded study.

The work assessed lameness on 53 farms. Of these, 28 produced to the organisations Freedom Food standards and the remaining 25 were outside the scheme.

Lameness ranged from 0% to 50% of cows on the farms studied. The best 20% of farms had 0-14% lame cows, on the middle 60% of farms 14-30% of cows were lame and on the worst 20% of farms lameness incidence was 30-50%, said Bristol University researcher Becky Whay.

"According to 50 British Cattle Vet Ass-ociation vets and cattle welfare experts, action should be taken when more than 14% of cows are lame. This equates to 80% of the farms studied."

Hock damage was a particular problem. "Only four farms had straw yards with the remaining 49 having cubicle housing systems. In the study, 11% of cows had swollen hocks and 30% ulcerated hocks. Thin rubber mats seemed to be causing more damage to hocks than concrete.

"This may have been because less bedding was used on thin rubber mats, but there could be other reasons. Sawdust proved worse than sand as a bedding material in terms of hock damage, whereas sand produced a good non-abrasive bed."

Freedom Food farms were no better than conventional units at controlling lameness, said fellow Bristol University researcher David Main. "Lameness will only be improved on Freedom Food and other farms by adopting measures specific to individual farms, not through changing Freedom Food standards.

"For example, a reduction in lameness wont necessarily be achieved by imposing a standard foot bathing routine on all Freedom Food farms."

Dairy lameness clearly warrants extra attention