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Measuring, Managing and Monitoring Lameness in Cattle

Alistair Chilcott BVetMed MRCVS, Molecare Farm Vets

Affecting all cattle herds, lameness can cause significant welfare and financial issues across farms who struggle to get a successful control strategy in place to manage the condition.

When creating a management strategy for the condition, you should always be guided by the animals who are currently lame, and focus on the rest of the herd to ensure that the sound animals are best protected against developing the problem.

Identifying the cause

The first step in developing a successful targeted management plan for your farm is being able to accurately determine the major cause of lameness in your cattle. To help inform your strategy we would advise that you keep a record of your on-farm lameness so as you can build a picture of the disease and how it is impacting your livestock, this record should include: the diagnosis, severity of lameness present, animal response to treatment and recurrence of lameness in affected animals.

The three most common causes of lameness in cattle are: Digital Dermatitis, Sole Ulcers and White Line Disease. The prevalence of each of these disease manifestations in your herd directly reflects the environment and management system of your farm, which means there won’t necessarily be a ‘one size fits all’ solutions. Engaging with your vet to review the farm as a whole, including the staff’s interaction within this environment is crucial in creating a plan that delivers long term.

Molecare Case Study One

Our client’s dairy herd was scored at 82% acceptable mobility, 10% score 2 and 8% score 3, with a 5% culling rate for lameness, with data collected by the external foot trimmer showing that over 80% of lame cows had lesions related to Digital Dermatitis.

On reviewing the farm and its’ processes it became apparent that although a footbath was present on farm, usage was irregular owing to its inconvenience. To encourage more regular footbathing, our client invested in a new automatic footbath, allowing for convenient daily usage, with a combination of copper sulphate and formalin.

Four months later at our quarterly review with the client it was found that acceptable mobility had jumped to 91%, an increase of 9%, with score 2 animals decreasing to 8%, and score 3 to 1%. A further 12 months later, acceptable mobility was maintained above 90%, with the foot trimmer rarely reporting Digital Dermatitis lesions and therefore able to focus more on preventative routine trimming.

Molecare Case Study 2

Another example of lameness control and prevention can be seen with on a small dairy farm client we work with who has 120 cows. The farm was seeing a 20% mobility score 2 and it was found that while Digital Dermatitis was making a significant contribution to the lameness problem, sole ulcers were also commonly found on treating individual lame animals.

Our work focused on preventing the Digital Dermatitis as well as the factors contributing to the development of sole bruising and ulcers such as: cow comfort and flow, early identification and treatment.

The herd had a twice-daily milking routine and it was considered that this was likely to be having a negative impact on the cows, owing to the outdated parlour. In order to reduce this impact we looked at practical changes to the milking routine that split the herd into smaller groups, allowing for shorter standing times at the concrete collecting yard. Additionally, rubber matting was placed in the collecting area to further reduce the forces through the feet.

Due to the extremely poor prognosis for cows with chronic sole ulcers, the farmer was advised to cull those affected animals, and focus his efforts on preventing the sound animals developing these lesions. Routine preventative trimming was introduced on a regular basis, tailored to the farms system, helping to prevent sole ulcer development amongst the herd. An ongoing routine mobility scoring and lameness detection protocol was also introduced, which works by monitoring progress and allowing for any further adjustments to be made to the lameness control strategy.


The farms in both case study one and two farms have experienced the benefit of active engagement and open discussion around lameness with their vet, leading to practical on-farm changes that resulted in improved cow mobility, welfare and production.

Lameness is a universal problem and must be tackled to maintain high standards of animal welfare on British farms, and to ensure the sustainability of the beef and dairy industry. It has been proven that effective management strategies start with measurement of the on-farm lameness, and speaking with your vet and working together to manage the problem and put effective preventative plans in place is the best way forward to ensure the health and wellbeing of your herd.

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