Preventing lameness in your dairy herd

Lameness can have a significant impact on a dairy cow’s health, longevity, and productivity.

Are dairy farmers doing a better job preventing lameness on their farms than they have in the past? What risk factors can producers better manage to reduce lameness on their farms? Those are questions University of Calgary graduate student Michelle van Huyssteen is seeking to answer in an on-going research project with Alberta dairy farmers.

Earlier this month at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar in Red Deer, Alta., van Huyssteen shared results of a study that assessed lameness on 65 Alberta dairy farms. Overall, the study revealed 20 per cent lameness prevalence within the herds, a score that remains unchanged since 2011 based on previous research.

With that in mind, van Huyssteen says producers are still struggling to adopt lameness management and prevention strategies that work for their farm, but her research shows some farmers are doing much better than others. In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, van Huyssteen notes that lameness scores in her study range from as low as two per cent to as high of 56 per cent. She believes the range of scores is impacted by many factors, including stall design, standing time, stocking  density, flooring, effective foot baths and, management. (Story continues after the interview.)

She emphasizes strong management protocols and attention to detail also play a key role in reducing lameness. Adding that, a farm with only two per cent lameness is an older facility, but maintains a strong hoof trimming program and is quick to identify, assess and correct lameness problems in the herd. Strong preventative programs and foot bathing are a big part of their success.

One of the biggest challenges producers face is a sense that the lameness battle is a fight they can’t win, says van Huyssteen. Some producers feel lameness is always there, it’s difficult to reduce and it’s never going to go away. “That’s a big barrier,” she says.

In the interview, van Huyssteen also discusses the risk factors her team uses to assess lameness on farms they studied and next steps for the research.

Click here for more Western Canadian Dairy Seminar coverage.

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