Dairy Cattle - Lameness (PB4020)

Heifer Management

There are three factors likely to lead to a high incidence of lameness in heifers around the time of calving when they join the milking herd. These are:

  • sudden introduction to concrete floors and slurry
  • stress as a result of calving, establishing their place in the herd hierarchy and change in diet
  • unfamiliarity with cubicles leading to decreased resting time.

Evidence suggests that there is an increase in lameness that develops in the pre-calving period. Studies identify lameness peaking soon after calving in heifers. This suggests that management of the heifer prior to calving has a very important influence on her welfare as she enters the dairy herd. Lameness, often occurs because animals are reluctant to lie down when first housed and spend too much time standing. The consequences can be reduced growth rates, loss of weight, premature culling and reduced reproductive performance.

Management practices prior to calving can alleviate these problems. When the herd is housed in cubicles, the replacement heifers should also be reared in cubicles and should be introduced to concrete surfaces and changes in diet from 6 weeks before calving. Where practical, heifers should be managed as a separate group to reduce stress. However, if space allowances or number of cubicles are suitable and feed barrier management is good, then practical experience shows that heifers do not exhibit major problems.

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