Reducing lameness at Ditchetts Farm

An increase in cow numbers and a wet autumn saw a spike in lameness at Ditchetts farm and Richard Tucker explains how they reduced incidences from 23% to 12%.

Richard’s biggest cost when it came to managing lameness was time, finding him and his team were spending much more treating lame cows in comparison to other jobs. It was also the second most common reason for culling, after fertility, and it was acknowledged that the two were probably linked.

Working alongside West Ridge Vets, they looked at the causes of lameness and ways to improve it. On examination it was found 90% of the lame cows had white line disease, a non-infectious condition that occurs when the sole separates from the side wall of the hoof, allowing foreign material to penetrate and infect the white line region.

Cow walking surfaces was identified as a key factor in tackling lameness, in particular the cow tracks. The cows were walking on unforgiving surfaces to and from the parlour and back to the housed accommodation or to grass.

Original tracks were installed on the farm between 2000 and 2005 when cow numbers were lower. Aggregate stone was used and the tracks became slippery when it rained and puddles formed easily.

Learn about the key points to consider when laying cow tracks

Since then, Richard increased cow numbers which added additional pressure on the tracks which led to further deterioration and so the tracks were reviewed in autumn 2017.

Where necessary, the level of the tracks were raised using stone. Tracks around the parlour and the main track leading to grass and winter housing, which also saw a lot of vehicle traffic, were concreted with grooves. 

Tracks that were used less often with no vehicles usage had a base layer of 6F5 aggregate and a top level of scalpings. Both layers had a vibrating roller put over them.

Since new tracks have gone in, cow lameness has improved greatly, with no cases of white line seen since they were finished.

Another area for improvement flagged when working through the Healthy Feet Programme was they were not regularly mobility scoring. This meant that it wasn’t identified when cows went from a score 1 to showing some signs of lameness. Since starting programme, they now mobility score every month which means they can monitor lameness better and identify when cows are getting better or worse and take appropriate action. This is mainly done by a vet, with the intention of having a member of farm staff carrying out some scoring. This will include regular vet review as independent mobility scoring is key.

These changes, plus increasing scraping in winter housing and treating digital dermatitis individually rather than as a group, has meant lameness in the herd has reduced from 23% to 12%. They now have a zero tolerance approach to cows scoring 3 and the overall aim is to have lameness rate of no more than 5%.

Mobility scores:

Score 0: Good mobility

Score 1: Uneven steps, needs monitoring

Score 2: Uneven weight distribution on affected leg, appears lame and will need treatment

Score 3: Very lame, limping and in need of urgent attention, welfare issue

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