134. Lameness in dairy cattle is at an unacceptably high level. A study of the epidemiology of bovine lameness by the University of Liverpool found that there were about 55 new cases a year for every 100 cows on the farms within the study 4 . The problem is greater than it was 40 years ago. There have been vast changes in dairy cattle production since then including breed, size, nutrition, production and, in particular, housing.
4. Clarkson, M J et al (1993). An Epidemiological Study to Determine the Risk Factors of Lameness in Dairy Cows (ref. CSA 1379). Final report.
135. Lameness is almost always a painful condition and it interferes with a cow's ability to interact fully with her environment, especially her social environment, hence it is a major animal welfare issue. There are many farms where lameness is causing unnecessary pain and unnecessary distress. Yet some stockmen appear not to perceive lameness as a problem and the severity and extent often go unnoticed and untreated.
136. Lameness can cause loss of weight, eventual reduction in milk yield and reduced fertility: all of which may result in early culling. Furthermore, there are costs resulting from veterinary treatments and the need for additional replacement animals. Lameness is not, therefore, only a welfare issue but a cause of considerable economic loss. A cow cannot perform effectively and efficiently if it is repeatedly lame. In the dairy herd, the vast majority of cases of lameness are due to foot problems and the remainder to leg damage. The latter includes swollen knees and hocks caused by poor lying conditions and poorly designed buildings.
137. Too many cows for the number of cubicles and too frequent changing of group composition cause problems, particularly for the more subordinate cows. Poor management, which results in cows having to stand in slurry, also tends to affect the subordinate cow. A combination of these factors can lead to the development of foot problems and lameness. The likelihood of lameness in straw yards increases if the straw is not replenished frequently enough and cows have to stand on wet straw.
138. High yielding cows appear to be more vulnerable to lameness, probably for metabolic reasons associated with high production of milk, and require the highest standard of management to avoid being at risk. While intensive management, largely through feeding, may be a risk factor for foot health, the evidence of this is not convincing (see paragraph 35). Nutrition is more likely to be a major influence if it is very unbalanced or if there has been previous damage to the feet. Care is needed with the introduction to a cubicle house of newly calved cows, especially first calving heifers. Good cubicle comfort and access to suitable forage is essential.
139. Although some farmers have taken action to reduce the incidence of lameness within their herds, others seem to accept it as an inevitable part of dairy farming in spite of the financial implications. This is unacceptable, particularly as sufficient knowledge now exists to enable the industry to reduce significantly the number of lame cattle.
140. All dairy farmers and stockmen must take heed of this serious problem, monitor the situation and take appropriate preventive and corrective action. Veterinary advice may be required. The issue already is a matter of public concern, and if action is not taken, there may ultimately be calls for legislative control. FAWC intends to review the situation in five years and comment to Ministers, as necessary.