Lameness takes the spotlight

Thursday, 26 August 2021

A recent 'Grassroots' survey by the newly formed Ruminant Health and Welfare has well and truly put lameness in the spotlight, says Sara Pedersen.

The survey was aimed at farmers, vets and consultants and its objective was to determine the syndromes and diseases that impacted most on the industry when considering health and welfare, productivity, reputation and market access.

The results were conclusive – lameness is the top priority across the board. It was the top syndrome of concern with digital dermatitis heading up the list of priorities when it came to individual diseases as well.

One of the real challenges when it comes to tackling lameness has been the underestimation of the impact it has not only on welfare but also on the profitability of the dairy herd. This is what makes these results so encouraging and shows that a big barrier has been overcome. Lameness is now top of the agenda, and this means that going forward it is likely to feature heavily in national strategy and policy.

Results into actions

Following on from the survey results, two workshops were held to identify how we try and tackle these priorities; the first focused on short term or immediate actions that could be taken to improve welfare and the second looked at longer term strategies to improve health.

Each workshop involved multiple breakout sessions during which actions and aspirations were discussed. In terms of digital dermatitis, it was agreed that an awareness campaign was needed to help increase the uptake of control strategies such as blitz treatment and improved footbathing and drive home the message that it is controllable with the right measures in place.

Ways to improve the welfare of lame cows involved the use of more pain relief in treatment and the more widespread implementation of mobility scoring as a tool for earlier detection and not just for auditing purposes. Improving on farm competency in treating lame cows was also considered a route to ensuring better welfare for lame cows with the potential to move towards a requirement to have a competent ‘foot first aider’ on every farm.

The follow up health workshop tackled the longer-term strategy for lameness and the goal for 2031. There was much discussion between idealistic and realistic targets. Due to the impact of historical lameness events on future risk it was proposed that focusing on setting targets for first lactation heifers may be more achievable, with a target of <5% by 2031.

However, it was discussed that if we are truly to tackle lameness then we need to be honest and open about the current levels and the whole supply chain needs to be involved in supporting the industry to tackle the problem.

What happens next?

The key will now be in how these discussions are taken forward and ultimately how they drive policies and national strategies. What is clear is that now lameness has been brought into the spotlight it creates a huge opportunity to help motivate, encourage and support farmers to improve foot health.

We anticipate the Healthy Feet Programme being a central part of the plans going forward and so it is already great to have so many Mobility Mentors on board to take the lead.  As this unfolds over the next few months and it becomes clear how lameness will become integrated into various strategies we will keep you updated so that you can stay one step ahead.

Find the full results of the survey