Dairy Cattle - Lameness (PB4020)


This booklet describes the main aspects of lameness and outlines some of the practical and common-sense management measures that will help prevent or treat this serious problem. If the advice is followed it should help ensure better welfare standards for the animals through a reduction in the level of lameness. At the same time it will help maintain or more likely improve the efficiency of production.

Whilst this booklet embodies much of the latest scientific advice and the best current husbandry practices, it cannot be exhaustive and is not intended as a substitute for expert advice. If in doubt about a problem a veterinary surgeon or a husbandry or technical expert should always be consulted. Please remember that without good stockmanship animal welfare can never be adequately protected.

Please note that in addition to Dairy Cattle this booklet covers Dairy Heifers. There are similar publications specific to Beef Cattle, Sheep and Pigs.



The level of lameness in dairy cattle in the UK is unacceptably high. It is a major cause of pain and discomfort to the animals and a financial loss to farmers. The financial cost to the national dairy herd was estimated in 1993 at between 44m and 89m. The average direct cost per lameness case was estimated in 1997 at between 120 - 130. This figure takes into account treatment and veterinary charges, reduction in milk yield, withdrawal of milk because of antibiotic residues and herdsman's costs. The variation in the cost to the industry is related to the differences in lameness rates recorded. When associated costs are taken into account, such as the adverse affects on fertility, increased replacement costs and culling rates, the cost of an average case doubles to more than 240.

In recent years a number of surveys have been carried out to assess the incidence of lameness. A survey by Liverpool University Veterinary School showed that for every 100 cows there were 55 new cases every year, with a prevalence of 21%. The problem has become more severe over the years. The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) which reported on the Welfare of Dairy Cattle in 1997 noted that some stockmen appear not to perceive lameness as a problem and the severity and extent often go unnoticed and untreated. One thing that all the studies have in common is the large range in incidence of lameness between herds, with some farms exhibiting very low incidence, eg only 2 cases per annum in 100 cows, up to and in excess of 200 cases. One study has estimated that about half of the cows exhibiting lameness were slightly lame, over 42% were moderately lame, with the remaining 8% severely lame.

The incidence of lameness as a major problem in dairy cattle has increased in recent years and has been shown to be more common in large herds and a particular problem during the winter housing period. The problem was worsened over the years due to the inadequate size of cubicles and deficiencies in their design and construction. Cows and heifers suddenly introduced to concrete surfaces after calving appear to be more susceptible to lameness.

Around 80% of cases of lameness are due to foot problems and the remainder to leg damage. Foot lameness is seen most commonly in the hind feet, particularly in the outer claws. The majority of leg lameness is due to physical damage from badly designed cubicles and to injury at calving.

A number of inter-acting husbandry and management practices can pre-dispose the herd to lameness problems. Early diagnosis is important so that the probable causes of the problem can be identified and a control strategy put into action.

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