It is much easier to talk about the physical and financial impact of lameness than to actually put it right.
Most producers will be aware the typical cost of a single case is put at £140-180, with 25% of all cows being affected at any one time.
But with milk contracts from leading players now stipulating cows must be mobility scored at least twice a year, foot health is coming more to the forefront of people’s minds.
Advisory bodies and vets suggest mobility scoring should be carried out once a month as cows exit the parlour, allowing producers to score cows from zero (ideal mobility) to three (very lame) – most cows needing to have feet inspected will be score two, with early signs of lameness in one or more feet.
And to keep on top of foot health, some farmers are contracting out foot trimming, at a guide cost of about £12-15 a cow, suggests the National Association of Cattle Foot-Trimmers (NACFT).
Many producers have established a good working routine in conjunction with vets, advisers and trimmers, says vet Chris Just, Westpoint Farm Vets, who is also the vet liaison officer for NACFT.
“As a guide, all cows should be mobility scored and treated where necessary at or before drying off. This reduces the impact from stresses associated with calving and peak milk production. We’d also recommend looking again 100 days into lactation.”
Mr Just also stresses the importance of leaving a record of treatment on-farm after each visit. This allows all parties involved in cow welfare – producer, vet, nutritionist, adviser – to keep on top of individual cow and herd health. “Lameness impacts on a cow’s productivity and fertility so it is vital we get it right.
“As an industry, I believe we’re moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot more work to be done,” he says.
Using mobility scoring to pick out cows showing early signs of lameness can aid early recovery, protect production and contain treatment costs, according to researchers at Bristol University.
Cows treated with a mobility score of two – showing mild discomfort – saw 74% recover in two weeks and 81% in four weeks.
Where cows were treated when they were showing critical signs of lameness, only 50% recovered in two weeks after treatment. The remainder requiring two to six further treatments.
Peter Eynon, Farley Farms, Reading
Farm manager Peter Eynon, who overseas Farley Farms Partnership’s 230-cow herd, switched to a contracted trimming service from Westpoint Farm Vets last July.
“We milk three times a day and achieve an average milk yield of 10,500 litres so our herd is working hard,” explains Mr Eynon.
“Our milk buyer – Marks & Spencer – is keen on herd health, as are we, so having a second pair of eyes looking at cow mobility is no bad thing. And we’ve made good progress.”
Cows are mobility scored monthly, with trimmer Bevan Estman attending to herd members flagged as having early symptoms of foot problems shortly thereafter.
“In effect, cows are being seen three times every two months. Our aim in the first six months of the service was to get herd lameness down from 14% – already well below the national average – to under 10%. We’re currently running at 9.25%.”
And Mr Eynon wants lameness to improve further in the next six months, with a target of 7.5%. “We set our standards high.
Aside from the routine visits for scoring and trimming, our herdsmen will still lift a cow’s foot between visits when necessary and we also run the cows through a foot bath of formaldehyde solution once daily,” he says.
This is good practice. For those producers wanting to improve knowledge and with access to the internet there is a wealth of material at their finger tips, says vet Chris Just.
Written material is also available from a number of dairy-related organisations. “When considering major changes to foot health routine, it is worthwhile talking through ideas with your vet first,” he adds.