Lameness was one of the hot topics at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar in Red Deer, Alberta, explains Mr Jones, chair of RUMA.
I was there to speak about the challenges we face in the UK but was fascinated to hear that our Canadian cousins share many of our challenges – in health and welfare in particular.
Lameness is apparently third in the list of priorities for Canadian dairy farmers – but the message at the seminar was it should be the top concern. Why? It affects the wellbeing of the cow, it reduces profitability, it impacts the reputation of the industry, and it’s largely preventable.
Speakers were at pains to be clear that it’s not a disease in its own right – but it’s often caused by disease, metabolic issues or management failings.
Thin cows are more susceptible – excellent work done here in the UK supports this – as are dirty cows, fresh-calved cows and young heifers. In Canada, 79-83% of all lameness cases have ‘prior’ history. For example 64% of cows become lame when dried off become lame at the next lactation. And of course, when cows are affected, treatment usually involves antibiotics – a course of action we should avoid reaching.
As ever, prevention is better than cure. Mobility scoring as well as ongoing ‘recalibration’ of your scoring technique is key. Knowing your current levels of lameness means you can adopt a zero-tolerance approach. No lameness should be acceptable.
Non-lame cows in the herd with no history of lameness should be on a programme of foot trimming and checking once a year, while lame cows and more importantly those with history of lameness should be on a very different programme, where they are inspected and trimmed several times.
Automatic scrapers or ‘mobile slurry pools’ were cited as a big issue by one speaker, and cause lameness by giving the cows a hoof bath in slurry several times a day. Also fix rubber flooring where cows are forced to stand (e.g. the collecting yard) and improve cubicle comfort – deep sand beds and increased lying time cut lameness significantly.
Lastly, digital dermatitis remains a significant cause of lameness here in the UK. Work on a vaccine is ongoing but until then we must cut use of antibiotic footbaths, which are rarely effective, end up in the slurry put and add significantly to antibiotic usage for the sector. Instead, early detection, topical treatment and regular footbathing with non-antibiotic treatments will be more effective – and more responsible.