Locomotion Scoring of Dairy Cows

Dr. Allen Young
USU Extension Dairy Specialist

At the recent Intermountain Nutrition Conference, Dr. Mike Socha from the Zinpro Corporation talked about locomotion scoring as part of a program to identify and reduce lameness on dairies. Because it is such a common problem, I want to highlight and expand on some of his material.

Surveys show that lameness varies from about 4% to 55% of the herd and is expensive. Estimates put the cost at $300 to $346 for each clinically lame cow. Lame cows have reduced milk production, reduced fertility, increased replacement costs, and increased labor and medication costs. For example, if you have a 1000-cow dairy and 20% of the cows are clinically lame, then your cost would be at least $60,000 per year. Not only that, but work from Wisconsin has found that 75% of heifers had a claw lesion at 12 months of age and 86% had a lesion 1 month before calving (few of these heifers actually showed clinical signs of lameness). However, heifers with claw lesions at 12 months of age were about 28 times more likely to develop lesions during lactation, and heifers with a lesion one month prior to calving were 15 times more likely to develop a lesion during lactation. The sum total is that many dairies are dealing with a prevalent, costly problem.

If you are going to develop a program to eliminate lameness, you have to know where you are at in terms of the extent of the problem. It is obvious from several research studies that producers are underestimating the number of cows on their dairy that have a lameness problem. At least three research articles have looked at this issue and have shown that dairy producers underestimate the true level of the problem by 2.5 to 11.5 times the actual amount (e.g., in one study the difference was 4.5% lameness perceived vs 52% actual). So the first thing to do is to determine what the ACTUAL rate of lameness is on your dairy.

In order to accomplish point number one, you need to have a way of scoring lameness. The Zinpro Corp. has developed a very nice system that is accompanied by color photos to aid you in giving cows a lameness score. The score goes from 1 to 5 with 1 being normal and 5 being severely lame (you may obtain further information about this system from the company�s web site). While it is easier for you to look at the pictures, I have seen a decision tree from Zinpro that I will go through here.

First, is the cow favoring a limb? Yes or No?
If Yes, is the favored limb bearing weight? Yes or No?
If Yes, then give her a score of 4, if No, give her a score of 5.
If the answer to question 1 was NO, then
Is she standing with her back arched? Yes or No?
If Yes, then give her a locomotion score of 3.
If No, then is the back arched while walking? Yes or No.
If Yes, then locomotion score of 2.
If No, then a locomotion score of 1.

Now figure out what percent of cows have a score of 4 or 5. If you have <5%, then you are better than average. If you are between 5 and 10%, then you are average, but have room for improvement. If you have >10% at this level, then you are worse than average and need to do something immediately.

Determining if you have a problem is easier than determining why you have the problem. The cause can be from an infectious and/or non-infectious source. While the possibilities are too numerous to mention in the space available, I will indicate some general areas and let you talk with your veterinarian, hoof trimmer, nutritionist, or other outside observers about the details. In general consider the following areas: nutrition (including acidosis), physical facilities such as stalls and alleys, improper or infrequent claw trimming, heat stress, foot rot, hairy heel warts, foreign objects that get stepped on, etc.

This is generally a preventable condition, but you can�t treat what you don�t identify. Maybe it is time for you to consider bringing in an outside observer to help you determine where you are relative to this problem.

Any comments or questions can be directed to Allen Young at (435) 797-3765 or alleny@ext.usu.edu.

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