Lameness and Welfare of Dairy Cattle



A prominent veterinary researcher from Cornell University estimates that the most costly diseases of dairy cattle are displacement of the abomasum and lameness resulting in the $489 and $478 per case, respectively. However, when economic losses are computed on a herd basis, none rival lameness as the most costly disease of dairy cattle. Reasons for this are largely related to its insidious nature and the relatively high incidence of this disease compared to abomasal displacement, mastitis and other common health disorders. Although variable, it is not uncommon to find herds with annual incidence rates of 30% or higher. Lameness disorders are often neglected because early symptoms are subtle causing a failure of owners to observe or recognize them in timely manner. Detection is also complicated by the cow’s natural instinct to disguise her discomfort which results in only mild alterations of gait and posture. Ultimately, this leads to treatment delays and the development of more serious conditions that increase animal suffering and reduce welfare. Despite its impact on performance, profit and animal well-being, attention to this health problem by the dairy industry is lacking. For example, dairy record-keeping systems are designed to capture multiple bits of information on most health disorders in dairy cattle with exception of lameness events. Data that is recorded is usually provided by trimmers, but much of it cannot be conveniently transferred to the farm’s record-keeping system. Furthermore, terms used by trimmers and data captured is not consistent or easily interpreted since there is no standard nomenclature used amongst trimmers. As a consequence, there is little or no data available for regular evaluation of foot care information on farms by veterinarians or others.

Another issue of growing concern for the Iowa dairy industry is that promulgated by activist organizations charging that the welfare of animals in production agriculture is compromised for the benefit of profit. These organizations are well organized and support their arguments with video footage taken by persons working undercover in packing plants, livestock markets and on farms. For the most radical of these organizations the primary objective is to end animal agriculture. Unless the dairy industry can develop an effective pro-active approach to assuring consumers of its commitment to humane care of its animals, it faces a greater likelihood of increased regulation by outside agencies.

Keywords: ASL R2520

How to Cite: Shearer, J. K. (2010) “Lameness and Welfare of Dairy Cattle”, Iowa State University Animal Industry Report. 7(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.31274/ans_air-180814-60