Have you ever been on a farm visit and thought “My herd’s lameness isn’t nearly as bad as theirs”? If so, you may well be in for a surprise when mobility scoring your cows.
According to Nick Green, farm director of Alvis Brothers, Redhill, it is all too easy to underestimate the number of lame cows on farm.
“When you tally up the lameness group you keep close to the buildings with the stragglers at the back of the herd; it soon adds up to more than you think.”
And in a business where the aim is to make “profit with integrity”, ensuring animal health and welfare is the best it can be is a must. “Our integrity is towards our animals, through a good, well managed environment. In a commercial sense, to be profitable we also need to work to increase our margin.”
And to fulfil both these criteria, fertility performance must be top notch. “Mobility is a huge influencer to fertility, with lame cows less likely to express heats and stand for the bull.”
Mr Green strongly recommends regular mobility scoring to help establish a starting point for lameness improvement – producers can then work with their vet to establish a target level of lameness.
Discussing issues and farm practices with other farmers is also a highly valuable tool, and one that helped the team at Box Bush (one of the Alvis Brothers’ suppliers) significantly improve cow mobility.
In fact, a DairyCo lameness discussion group held last year helped prioritise areas for attention.
This, combined with regular mobility scoring and better teamwork, has resulted in a drop in total lameness incidence of 24% since July, including a two-thirds reduction in score three cows.
Despite the business looking to invest in new housing this year for the 300 Holstein Friesians, holding off making improvements to existing buildings was not an option, with lameness levels described by Mr Green as unsustainable at their original level.
As a result, a number of relatively simple, but effective changes have been made.
Mobility scoring carried out before the discussion day not only identified a higher than ideal level of lameness, but also helped identify patterns in foot problems, says DairyCo extension officer, Andy Dodd.
“Digital dermatitis was the main foot problem – an area which had become a long running issue on farm.”
According to farm manager Neil Hynam, the team had completely run out of ideas on how to tackle digital dermatitis (DD).
“We were using £800 worth of antibiotic footbath a month by running cows through the bath three to four times a week and DD was getting really bad.”
The problem was further accentuated when dry cows had to be housed with youngstock one winter, creating a vicious cycle of infection and leading to heifers calving in already infected.
“Once DD is established it is hard to get rid of, so we are considering footbathing youngstock once a week with a copper sulphate disinfectant,” Mr Hynam says.
To address DD levels in the milking herd, footbath routine now includes using a disinfectant three days a week, with parlour washing used for the remaining four days.
Type of disinfectant is also altered to include copper sulphate for one week, formalin for one week and parlour washings for another week.
Antibiotic footbaths should only be used for treating lameness problems, says Mr Dodd. “Extended use can result in immunity and ineffective control.”
Copper sulphate or formalin footbaths are recommended, but again should be used in rotation to prevent resistance.
The existing footbath has also been split in two with a set of gates installed, allowing half the herd to run through one side and the other through the second section.
This prevents over contamination and means the bath does not have to be changed half-way through milking.
The angle of entry has also been modified to form a funnel shape and improve cow friendliness and flow.
Cow mobility observations also identified cows were commonly lame on the left side, highlighting issues at the parlour exit.
“Cows exiting the parlour on one side were faced with a sharp left-hand turn, resulting in increased foot problems on this side.”
According to Mr Green, discussions with other producers on the day of the mobility workshop were pivotal in addressing this problem.
“One farmer said installing rubber matting on the parlour exit was the best thing he’d ever done – 24 hours later and we were laying the matting on the left-hand exit.”
The matting has only been fitted one matt wide, but the farm are already seeing improvements in cow mobility.
The aim may be to extend the area to cover the whole of the parlour exit, but for now, the relatively minimal investment of about £70 a matt, is paying off.
The same visit also flagged up slurry pooling as a major source of DD infection, bringing the issue to the team’s attention and encouraging what Mr Green describes as “good housekeeping”.
Better use of the vet and foot trimmer has also helped keep on top of lameness issues, says Mr Hynam.
“We always used a foot trimmer, but before he used to just do lame cows, now we select out the severe score three cows straight away and the trimmer sees more maintenance cases.”
The vet also visits every other week and trims less severely lame cows – something which wasn’t done before.
“Overall the foot trimmer is reporting an improvement in what he is being presented with,” he says.
The new building, which will be constructed this year will take into account key influencers to cow mobility, focusing on cow comfort, loafing space and feed space.
However, the changes made at Box Bush, have proved old buildings, designed in the 1970s, can be modified to improve lameness.
Mr Dodd explains that mobility scoring has enabled the farm to target the most lame cows (score threes) as a priority and, when these are under control also target the score two cows for treatment.
“The initial three months saw a reduction in score three cows month on month and a smaller percentage reduction in score two cows. However, for the period between November and January there were also considerable reductions in score two cows, resulting in the overall decline in herd lameness.”
The benefits of regular footbathing was further emphasised in February when the farm began to ease back on the routine, following the marked improvements. Subsequently staff witnessed a decline in mobility.
“This clearly shows good progress can only be maintained and improved when footbathing routine is stuck to,” says Mr Dodd.
Supermarket requirements for mobility scoring
Since 2007, Tesco has required all of its suppliers to conduct mobility scoring every two months. Scoring was introduced as part of the supermarket’s contract to encourage farmers to focus on this key animal welfare measure. Scoring is undertaken by the farmer following training from their vet.
McDonald’s have been working with a small group of dairy farmers to examine the benefits of monthly mobility scoring and to understand issues surrounding lameness.
Mobility scoring is not a requirement they currently have in place. However, it is something the farmers they have worked with, have seen value in and ideally they would like to see the requirement adopted into farm assurance schemes.
Sainsbury’s 343 Dairy Development Group (SDDG) farms are required to mobility score. The results from at least one mobility score must be submitted annually.
They currently tolerate 10% very lame cows and 2% chronically lame cows; however this tolerance will be reduced to 5% and 1% respectively in January 2012.
When lameness is a challenge, the herd will be independently scored to identify cows for treatment.
Only farmers that fail to engage in strategies of improvement lose their premium. The premium is restored after three months when the farmer has made an effort to improve lameness.
Morrisons expects all dairy farmers who supply it via milk processing companies to be Red Tractor
Assured and maintain high production standards, including dairy cow health and welfare.
Morrisons doesn’t make any specific requirement for mobility scoring, but supports the industry focus on reducing lameness within the dairy herd.
All Asda Dairylink ‘best practice’ farmer groups continue to cover all areas of health, including mobility scoring and lameness prevention.
This has led to improvements in digital dermatitis, cow comfort and foot trimming. All Asda Dairylink farmers monitor herd health monthly through consultancy Kite’s Health Monitor Programme and meet regularly to share best practice.
Although mobility scoring is not mandatory for Waitrose suppliers, their organic farmer group have been using an independent assessor to mobility score cows three times a year.
The group recognised the potential improvement to animal performance. Some of their conventional farmers are mobility scoring in their own right, but their farmer group is focusing on other health traits first.