‘Almost one in five dairy cows will succumb to lameness each year’

Approximately 20% of dairy cows in Ireland will succumb to one form or other of lameness problem during any 12-month period, according to Co Waterford vet Gerard Cusack.

There are direct and indirect costs associated with the problem, he said.

“Factors in the first category [direct costs] include the drop in yield recorded by the affected animals, the discarding of antibiotic-contaminated milk and associated veterinary fees.

“The problem is more serious in early lactation cows, given the much larger drop in milk output that can be expected over the subsequent months.

“Indirect costs include increased culling and reduced fertility.”

Cusack confirmed €300 as the average cost of a lameness case. This is made up by an average treatment of cost amounting to €55, milk losses of €75, an average culling cost of €100 and reduced fertility costing €50.

Cusack cited a range of lameness of problems that occur on Irish dairy farms: white line disease, sole bruising, sole ulcers, overgrown hooves and digital dermatitis.

“White line disease is the most common hoof problem associated with grazing cows.

“In essence, it is a consequence of the wear and tear that impacts on hooves as cows walk long distances to and from the grazing paddocks during a normal grazing season. The white line is a point of weakness on the cow’s hoof.

“The average hoof is 11mm thick. Hoof grows at a rate of 1mm per week. So if hoof tissue is wearing away at a rate which is actually greater than the cow is actually making it, then lameness related problems can be expected.”

Cusack said that dairy farmers must identify lameness problems as quickly as possible.

“Regular mobility scoring is strongly advised in this regard. But prevention is always better than cure. With this in mind, farmers should always strive to have their roadways and yard surfaces in good condition. Standing times for cows should also be minimised.

“In this context, it is crucially important to have sufficient cubicles for cows, particularly during the winter months.”