Lameness has been identified by all stakeholders within the dairy sector as the most obvious and concerning compromiser of welfare.
When considering the Five Freedoms, lameness impacts all:
- Inhibits normal feeding and drinking behaviour
- Causes discomfort and alters lying times
- Lameness is a painful condition and a gateway to developing other diseases
- Inhibits normal behaviour, such as socialising and loafing
- Compromises the individual’s status within the herd, leading to increased bullying and therefore fear and distress
It is now a requirement by many milk processor and retailer schemes to develop a management plan for every Mobility Score 3 Cow. Welfare must also be considered in long term lameness cases – we believe this is best achieved through a collaborative approach with farm team, foot trimmer and attending vet. Our vets work closely with foot trimmers to offer a service to problem cases, we term ‘referral to vet’ – complicated or unresponsive cases seen by trimmers are flagged to the farm vet. Another option used by our foot trimmers would be to identify the cow for culling. Cases of chronic or severe lameness should be tackled with a definitive plan for potential recovery and improved welfare with a vet consisting of;
- Supportive therapies e.g. NSAIDs (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs)
- Supportive management e.g. Resting the foot and removing weight bearing
- Surgery using anaesthetic techniques
- Planned culling
- Euthanasia on farm in hopeless cases
With effective management of long term cases, time is freed up for the prevention of new chronic cows through early detection. Effective treatment of lameness has been demonstrated as one of the most crucial elements to reduce lameness on farm.
In two years our trimmers examined 103,993 cows, 819 (0.8%) of these were ‘referred to the vet’. Criteria include severe white line disease typically with coronary band involvement, severe sole ulceration with associated spread of infection to joints, tissues and tendons. Toe necrosis is the most common referral. All these lesions can be more significant when considered ‘non-healing,’ often concurrently infected with digital dermatitis.
Without proper management these cases can be a significant drain of finances and compromise the welfare of our national herd. 14% of referred cases died on farm with a median survival time of 78 days, 51% were culled with a median survival time of 142 days. Earlier death on farm was observed when multiple lesions were recorded as opposed to a single lesion by 53 days. One concern for welfare is the increased time to slaughter when a combination of lesions is observed which includes white line disease or toe necrosis which may reflect an inability to travel.
The dairy industry and consumer all rate cow lameness as one of the most painful conditions observed. Milk processers have made significant changes to their standards to combat this and safeguard the perception of the milk products and preserve their brand integrity. Many farmers are now required to monitor lameness more intensively than previously. Farms not complying with these standards are at risk of losing their contract.
For more information on our foot trimming and lame cow services, please contact the practice.
Gareth Foden – Synergy Farm Health, Veterinary Surgeon BVetMed Cert AVP MRCVS