Dorset vet helps get his dairy herds moving more easily

Julian Allen is helping to reduce lameness in Dorset dairy herds by encouraging mobility scoring just as milk buyers are stepping up their interest in cow welfare.

As a senior dairy-focused vet, his enthusiasm for regular checks on cow health is helping his dairy farm clients improve the financial health and welfare of their herds.

It is his work on dealing with one of the “holy trinity” of health challenges of dairy cows – lameness, mastitis and fertility – that helped him win the Farmers Weekly Livestock Adviser of the Year Award in 2020, with his work on cow mobility standing out.

“I think farmers using mobility scoring see the benefits in terms of cutting lameness and improving herd longevity and milk yield,” he says from his office at Friars Moor Livestock Health in Sturminster Newton.

See also: Farmers Weekly Awards 2020: Livestock Adviser of the Year

Dairy cow welfare 

Stamping out lameness has gained popularity with farmers as milk buyers start to show increasing interesting in cow welfare, and Mr Allen has helped clients set up mobility scoring to identify problem lame cows and then focus on regular foot-trimming and foot-bath treatments.

The focus on mobility starts when a cow enters the milking herd at about two years old, with scoring done by the vet’s technical team when the animal exits the milking parlour.

Cows are scored using the AHDB mobility scoring system where:

  • Score 0 = Good mobility
  • Score 1 = Imperfect mobility where an affected limb is not immediately identifiable, and the cow could benefit from routine foot-trimming and further observation is recommended
  • Score 2 = Impaired mobility where an affected limb is immediately identifiable, and the cow should be examined as soon as possible 
  • Score 3 = Severely impaired mobility with the cow unable to keep up with the healthy herd and requires urgent attention

Retailer demands

One major retailer, Waitrose, is looking for its milk suppliers to have less than 10% of their cows scored as 2 or 3, with all cows grazing outside for at least 120 days a year.

However, high-yielding herds housed indoors all year round can easily have 20-30% of cows with those two high mobility scores.

These herds are more at risk of lameness from sole bruising and ulcers, as these cows’ feet are more likely to be wet, while hard concrete floors can encourage more horn growth, especially on high-concentrate diets.

“The biggest benefit of mobility scoring comes in the higher-yielding housed herds where the risk of lameness is greatest,” Julian says.

Focus on foot health

In an intensive dairying county such as Dorset, with increased robotic milking and cows housed for 12 months of the year, this focus on foot health becomes especially important.

When cows graze outside, the moisture on the grass tends to have a cleansing action on the cows’ feet to keep them clean.

Julian points out that whatever the system, monthly mobility scoring from his vet’s team of specialist technicians and a visit from the foot trimmers can reduced lameness.

On a typically 250-strong dairy herd where 20-30 cows might be scored as 2 or 3 and singled out for treatment, that number can easily be brought down into single digits with monthly checks, he says.

Clear benefits  

This has clear benefits for cow welfare, and can increase the time the cow spends in the herd and helps with fertility levels.

“When a cow goes lame, it losses weight and is not easy to get back into calf,” he says.

Often dairy farms doing their own scoring do not recognise a problem early enough, so an independent team of scorers and trimmers can often “nip in the bud” potential problems.

In addition, farms are under pressure from milk buyers to keep cows healthy and dispose of them before any problems become serious. These buyers look closely at culling rates and don’t like to see cows dying on the farm.

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