Lameness: assessment and management

Lameness: assessment and management

By Laura Solano,
DVM, PhD Candidate,
University of Calgary

Lameness is one of the most important welfare, health, and productivity problems in intensive dairy farming worldwide. It is important for dairy farmers to realize it causes pain, and therefore reduces cow longevity, milk production and reproductive performance, all of which contribute to substantial financial losses. To properly assess and prevent lameness, it is essential that producers understand factors contributing to this detrimental condition.

Research groups from 3 Canadian provinces performed a national study to determine baseline measures related to lameness. In total, 5,637 cows housed in 141 freestall dairies were scored for lameness. Other data was collected on individual cows (hock lesions, claw length, body condition score, parity, days in milk, and milk production), management practices (floor and stall cleaning routine, bedding routine, and footbath practices), and facility design (stall dimensions, stall base and bedding type, width of feed alley, flooring type, and slipperiness), as aspects that can affect lameness.

The overall prevalence of lameness averaged 21% (range, 0 to 69%), whereas the Canadian Dairy Code of Practice recommends lameness prevalence should remain well below 10%. In our study, lameness prevalence was higher in barns with very slippery flooring; however, it was clearly lower in barns that used sand or dirt as a stall base, or in barns with stall bedding at least 2 cm deep (regardless of stall base). Individual factors also had an important role, as lameness was more likely in cows with increased parity, poor body condition, injured hocks, or overgrown claws.

In conclusion, to reduce lameness on Canadian dairy farms, it is important to improve management of multiparous, thin and injured cows. In addition, efforts should be made to ensure that floors are not slippery and stalls are well bedded and comfortable.

For lameness assessment tools and resources, visit:

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