AHDB’s ongoing Healthy Feet Programme continues to take steps to improve cow health and welfare, and business’ bottom lines. Here we find out more about the latest developments.
TEXT LORNA GOW
The financial impact of lameness is often significantly underestimated and this is, in part, because the proportion of the herd with mobility issues tends to be underestimated, according to Dairy Veterinary Consultancy’s Owen Atkinson.
For every obviously lame cow – those with a mobility score of three (MS3) – there are typically three or four with a mobility score of two (MS2). “And these can only be detected if they are actively looked for because cows, as prey animals, mask or hide their pain,” says Dr Atkinson. “These MS2 cows are the reason to carry out mobility scoring. They will be ‘hiding’ in the herd and this will identify them.”
A UK study, carried out in 2009, estimated the average cost of lameness to be around £330 per case. A third of this cost is due to lost fertility due to delay in getting lame cows back in calf. “Milk yield loss accounts for a quarter and another quarter is due to premature culling,” explains Dr Atkinson. “Treatment and labour was, comparably, a much smaller proportion of the overall cost of a case of lameness. But that’s the only part that may be obvious to producers because they have to write a cheque for it. It’s a cost that can be easily seen on the balance sheet.”
The cost of lameness also varies significantly between cases because some cows are lame for a relatively long period of time, such as those with sole ulcers. While other cattle can recover quickly. “With this in mind, the average cost had been calculated at £2.20 for every day a cow is lame,” he says.
AHDB’s Healthy Feet Programme, which shares the latest information on how to detect, treat and prevent lameness between vets, producers and foot trimmers, has, with Dr Atkinson’s help, recently reviewed the estimated costs of poor mobility and hoof health. These new figures take into account the rising costs of production and value of milk since 2009. While the main reasons for incurring costs are the same, the total amount has increased. Today’s revised estimate is that it costs an average of £3.30 per day for every day a cow is lame. If herds are mobility scored it is possible to be a little more precise on costs because MS2 cows cost £2.25 per day and MS3 cows cost £6.80 per day. And regular mobility scoring to identify early cases of lame cows (MS2) for treatment is essential. Early treatment of new lameness cases results in quicker recovery, is more likely to lead to full recovery, less likely to lead to recurrence, as well as significantly reduce overall herd lameness within three months. “All compelling reasons to get lame cows spotted and treated as early as possible,” adds Dr Atkinson.
The programme has also reviewed and revised foot trimming technique recommendations. The five-step method is still the tried-and-trusted approach, and Dr Atkinson says that qualified trimmers are the most appropriate people to be trusted with herds’ foot trimming needs. Producers should look out for National Association of Cattle Foot Trimmers (NACFT) Category 1 trimmers or those fully audited by the Cattle Hoof Care Standards Board (CHCSB).
“Trimmers should continually refresh their skills and remain regularly audited to ensure they stay up-to-date with the latest advice and developments,” says Dr Atkinson. “And it will also help to prevent them from slipping into bad habits – something we’re all capable of, whatever our role.”
He says that there’s a ‘nuanced’ change to the way modelling is now done during ‘step three’ of the trimming process. “Best practice is to use a deeper, wider model on the predominant claw – the outer claw of hind feet. This is the area where most sole bruising occurs and so this updated technique takes more pressure off the hoof’s critical point.
Step change: use a deeper and wider model on the predominant claw
Dr Atkinson adds that sub-optimal trimming can often be the reason why herds fail to improve overall foot health. “Often it is producers’ own trimming technique that requires improvement. And sometimes it is due to unqualified trimmers, or those who have not kept up with their continual training. Find one who is suitably trained and accredited.”
Data management has also been a focus of the Healthy Feet programme and it’s also undergone some changes. “Vets and producers are increasingly recognising the value of data when it comes to preventing and treating lameness. But data only has a true value when it is relevant and significant.”
“When we began developing the programme, back in 2008, hoof health lagged way behind udder health when it came to using data. But mobility scoring and better recording programs have changed that. Mobility scores are like somatic cell counts. It is possible not only to track the progress of an individual cow, but to detect herd trends.”
Dr Atkinson says it is becoming increasingly common for vets to analyse mobility scoring data to find, for example: new case rates, first-lactation lameness prevalence, recovery rates, chronic cow incidence, and seasonal trends. “Understanding how the dynamic works in a herd puts producers in a considerably stronger position to do something about tackling hoof-health issues, and reduce the overall number of lame cows.”
AHDB’s Healthy Feet app was showcased at the Royal Welsh Show in July, and this, alongside other similar programs, will result in more targeted lameness management. “Producers can manage their lameness more effectively using their own herd data, and seeking support from a ‘mobility mentor’, who is trained to use the Healthy Feet Programme, is a great place to start.
“Experience shows that the programme works, so producers can feel confident about improving their herd’s hoof health if they get involved. And a focus on reducing lameness typically also has other significant benefits, such as happier staff, better herd fertility and more efficient use of labour.”