Lameness - no tip-toeing about

A look into the average costs of a lameness and its effect on a cow's fertility.

Lameness is a painful condition that can rob your herd's productivity, health, welfare and fertility, as well as your back pocket! 

How much does lameness cost?

The initial costs of lameness are attributed to:

  • Less milk produced;

  • Antibiotics and vet costs;

  • Lost milk, if antibiotics are used.

The continuing costs come from:

  • Lower future production;

  • Reduced reproductive performance;

  • Increased risk of culling due to being empty/lame.

Other costs include:

  • Time taken to treat cows;

  • Emotional stress from seeing cows suffering;

  • Inconvenience to staff handling the cows;

  • Increased risk of inhibitory substances entering the milk.

The below table shows the average cost of a lameness, assuming the owner does all of their own treatment and never uses any drugs/blocks/shoes.


Effect on fertility

During mating, a 2011 study* on 'The effect of lameness on the fertility of dairy cattle in a seasonally breeding pasture-based system', showed that once factors like parity, breed and calving-to-PSM (planned start of mating) interval were factored out, the average lame cow took an additional 12 days to get back in-calf compared to its non-lame counterparts. 

This subtracts days in milk for the next season, widens the calving spread of the dairy herd and increases the likelihood that this cow is empty for that season.

Animal welfare

Lameness is also a manifestation of a painful condition. Cows, being prey animals, are generally very stoic and, as a defence mechanism, do not show pain lightly (to avoid drawing the attention of hungry predators). As such, any condition that causes a cow to drop this stoicism is certainly causing significant discomfort and is an animal welfare issue.

Please keep an eye out for future newsletters, as we will continue this lameness theme into the New Year.

*J. I. Alawneh , R. A. Laven ,1 and M. A. Stevenson. Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, NZ 4471. American Dairy Science Association