Now that Spring has arrived many of you will be looking forward to getting the cows out to grass. This usually has a positive effect on lameness as grazing cows are at less risk of developing lesions such as sole ulcers and digital dermatitis.

Sole ulcers are associated with the amount of time the cow spends standing on concrete while there is a higher risk of digi in housed cows as the bacteria thrives on wet, dirty skin. Both of these factors tend to be less significant during the grazing season. However, there are still a number of other things to look out for that can cause lameness in cows while they are out at grass.

Causes of lameness in grazing cows

There was a research paper published in the Journal of Dairy Science last year looking at the causes of lameness in grazing herds in Ireland. They were all pasture based spring calving herds that house the cows for around 4.5 months. The findings will be applicable to spring calving herds in the UK with a similar production system as well as the many all-year-round calving herds who do significant amount of grazing. Previous studies into the causes of lameness have been carried out mainly in fully housed herds or fully outdoor herds in New Zealand, so herds like this with a mixture of housing and grazing have not really been looked at before.

The main findings were as follows;

  • The average % of lame cows was around 9% (range 0-30%). This is much lower than was found in studies in the UK, which have been carried out across a range of systems and usually show around 30% of cows to be lame. This supports the fact that grazing cows is generally a positive thing with regards to the risk of lameness. However, the large range in lameness observed across the farms indicates that it is still a serious issue in some grazing herds.
  • Genetics was one of the key factors that affected the chance of a cow becoming lame. Cows which were more genetically susceptible to lameness had a massive 37.5% increase in risk of becoming lame. This shows the huge potential benefit that can come from selectively breeding for cows that are less likely to become lame. The Lameness Advantage genetic index is available on bull proofs and is a great tool to reduce lameness over the long term.
  • A key herd-level cause of lameness was an increased percentage of stones in gateways. Stoney tracks will greatly increase the risk of white line lesions and gateways are particularly high risk areas.
  • One herd level predictor for reduced lameness included an increased distance to the first turn out of the milking parlour. Sharp turns cause twisting and turning forces in the hooves which damages the white line.

Prevention of lameness in grazing cows

Maintenance of cow tracks is essential for preventing lameness during the grazing season and is often discussed. There are also a number of other areas that should be looked at.

Pay particular attention to gateways or other high-risk areas, such as the transition from cow tracks onto concrete yards. Strategic use of astroturf in these areas can make a real difference by protecting the feet from stones.

Look for areas where cows are making sharp turns or slipping, such as the exit from the parlour or steep slopes. Can these be re-grooved or covered with rubber matting to reduce the forces on the feet?

Take care when buffer feeding. We see more lameness in front feet when cows are pushing at feed fences. This can be reduced by providing additional of trough space so that more cows can feed together at the same time.

  • Foot trimming – ensure that anyone carrying out routine trimming is properly trained. Preventive trimming is essential as if the feet are overgrown the
    distribution of weight is altered within the foot, increasing the forces within the hoof. However, it is essential that cows are not left with thin soles as this will increase the risk of bruising when walking to and from grazing. An increase in lameness after trimming is a sign that trimming technique needs to be reviewed.
  • Nutrition – speak to your nutritionist about supplementing with biotin. This nutrient is important for producing a healthy, robust hoof. Cows which are fed significant amounts of concentrate will struggle to produce enough in their rumen. Feeding 20mg/cow/day has been shown to reduce the risk of white line disease by up to 50%.
  • Genetics – speak to your genetics advisor or vet about breeding for reduced risk of lameness. Look for bulls with a Lameness Advantage of at least +1.0 to improve resistance to lameness in subsequent generations of cows.

LLM Feet First provides professional foot trimming services through our NACFT qualified trimmer as well as mobility scoring. Training can also be provided for farm staff, either through organised courses or bespoke onfarm training. Our Hoof-Proof risk assessment service reviews all the risk factors which contribute to
lameness on your farm to produce a specific action plan to improve mobility. The Feet First team is vet led and your own herd vet will be heavily involved in the delivery of these services. Speak to us for further information about how we can assist you in improving mobility in your herd.