Assessing the cost of lameness


Lameness is a continuous challenge for dairies in South Africa. Whether it is caused by physical injury, hoof disease or dietary deficiencies, it results in increased veterinary costs, increased culling, decreased milk yield and ultimately decreased profitability.

It is important that action is taken to assess and prevent lameness in your herd. The first step is to determine the extent of the problem and assess what it is costing the dairy, and the second is to determine how to prevent/treat the problem.

Locomotion scoring is a tool that can be used to determine the extent of the lameness problem and its cost. It is a relatively quick and simple assessment of the ability of cows to walk normally.

Locomotion scoring can also be used to select cows for individual hoof examination/trimming and to then assess the reason for early signs of lameness before the cows become clinically lame. In work completed on a commercial dairy in California, cows with a locomotion score of 3 were four times more likely to score a 4 or 5 (clinically lame) one month later (with no intervention) than cows scoring 2.

Tracking averages and the distribution of locomotion scores on a regular basis provides an index of the extent of lameness in the herd. This will provide criteria to determine when lameness is more prevalent, therefore when to intervene and treat the herd. The question is: how much does lameness cost the dairy producer due to lost milk and revenue? Based on extensive research (Peter Robinson, UC Davis), milk losses can be estimated based on the locomotion score profile of any group of cows:

  • Locomotion score 2: 2%
  • Locomotion score 3: 4,1%
  • Locomotion score 4: 9,3%
  • Locomotion score 5: 15,2%

However, only taking lost revenue due to milk loss into account is underestimating the true cost of lameness to a dairy, as decreased fer tility due to lameness also contributes to reduced profitability. Dr Chuck Guard from Cornell University also estimates the losses due to lameness (per case) in his Lameness Cost-Guard: 2% of cases die, 20% are culled, 340kg of milk is lost, 28 extra days open, approximately R100 treatment cost, as well as one hour additional labour.

The example in Figure 1 shows the impact of one set of circumstances. These numbers can be used to assess the relative milk loss from lameness and to therefore decide whether intervention would be
cost-effective. The locomotion score profile of the example herd would not be considered representative of a herd with a serious lameness problem (7% clinically lame), yet the milk revenue loss is just over R6 000 per month. This cost of lameness should justify intervention, such as calling on the hoof trimmer to regularly trim cows’ hooves or consider management, environment or nutritional changes (specifically in score 3 cows).

Steven Berry from UC Davis recommends working towards a locomotion score profile goal (Figure 2). All lameness is not nutritionally related and thus collection and evaluation of accurate claw lesion records, in addition to locomotion scoring, is essential to making the right corrective management decisions.

Zinpro and Chemuniqué are committed to improving your cow’s hoof health. For us, feet come first! Talk to your nutritionist or feed sales representative about Zinpro’s lameness assessment and prevention programme, FirstStep®, as well as the Zinpro Performance Minerals to ensure strong healthy feet.

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