26 March 1999

Locomotion scoring tells all

Better identification of

lameness in dairy cows,

prompt treatment and more

awareness of the pain and

financial losses it causes

could help cut its incidence.

Jessica Buss reports from

the first National Cattle

Lameness Conference

USING a simple locomotion scoring system to assess how well dairy cows walk can help milk producers improve lameness control.

That was the message of Helen Whay of Edinburgh Universitys department of clinical vet studies, speaking at last weeks MDC/farmers weekly lameness conference at Stoneleigh, Warks.

One major benefit of locomotion scoring is that lame cows will be identified quickly. But be aware that lame cows will try to hide lameness because they are prey animals and dont want to attract attention from predators, added Dr Whay.

Cows may also be lame on more than one limb. "This is relatively common and the signs cancel each other out, making it more difficult to identify. She may walk poorly but not limp."

There are many locomotion scoring systems available but a simple yes/no one would provide most of the information needed, she explained. "Locomotion scoring, whether twice a year or once a week, is invaluable for identifying the prevalence of lameness within a herd. It provides the information which will form the cornerstone of any prevention programme and singles out individuals requiring treatment and relief from suffering,"

Producers can score each cow by watching them walk and deciding whether they are lame – giving them a yes score when lame a no score when not lame or a question mark when uncertain. Those allocated a question mark can be checked more closely.

For an initial assessment of all cows, she suggested looking at each one from the side and behind when walking willingly, such as when leaving the parlour and heading for the feed face. "Try to ensure each animal has walked at least 10m to achieve a steady pace."

A cow that is lame will often lift the affected limb off the ground repeatedly or try to support her weight on the least painful part of the claw. But there are many signs which indicate lameness, helping identify a less obviously lame cow.

An animal which hangs or nods its head when it steps indicates lameness. This is more exaggerated when lame in a front limb. An arched spine often indicates that an animal is suffering pain such as from lameness.

Shortening or lengthening of the stride may also indicate lameness – the hind foot is normally placed in exactly the same place as the front foot.

When standing behind a cow, check that one leg doesnt stick out further than the other. When a cow is walking the pin bone on the sound side often sinks lower than the lame side, but beware that a cow may rest with one pin bone lower, warned Dr Whay.

"When you are not sure whether a cow is lame walk her up and down a slope or use a rougher surface or turn her in a circle." But it is unfair to do this to a cow that is obviously lame.

Having identified a lame cow, remember to record which limb is affected. It may also be useful to note any abnormal features recognised when scoring a cow.

"But you cant use locomotion scoring to identify the type of lesion affecting a cow," she said.

SIMPLESCORING

&#8226 Is she lame – YES.

&#8226 Not walking easily – ?

&#8226 Not lame – NO.