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Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series on locomotion scoring.

When is the last time you took a minute to notice how well your cows move? No, not how well a group journeys from pen to parlor, but how well an individual animal puts one foot in front of the other while traveling from point A to point B?

If it's been a while, you're missing some valuable clues regarding your herd's hoof health and lameness incidence. Sure, you catch most of the serious cases once clinical symptoms appear, but you can do better. A new tool called locomotion scoring can help you get a handle on subclinical cases before lameness pilfers milk production, hampers cow health and aggravates your culling rate.

"This scoring system tells us that lameness problems are quite likely much bigger than most people realize," notes Jan Shearer, University of Florida extension dairy veterinarian. "Locomotion scoring gives us a way to identify subclinical lameness, which helps us deal with the problem before it causes excessive performance loss or becomes life threatening."

Shearer is one of a handful of veterinarians and other industry professionals who have been using locomotion scoring on dairies to detect lameness problems early. Here, Steven Berry, University of California-Davis and Doug Hostetler, University of Missouri and Shearer explain how to score cows on your dairy.

1.Learn locomotion scoring basics

Locomotion scoring is an intuitive, easy-to-learn tool. You simply observe cow back posture and gait while they stand and walk, and then record a score for each cow. Don't worry about making an actual diagnosis of lameness or its cause. Your hoof trimmer or veterinarian can do that the next time he or she examines the cow.

When used correctly, locomotion scoring identifies cows before they turn up lame. Arched backs and gait anomalies provide the clues you need. You can also use this tool to measure lameness incidence and severity in your herd.

The photo guide on page 20-22 provides visual examples of how to rate cow motion and posture. 2. Score each cow

Now that you understand the concept, you're ready to begin.

When observing cows, select an area with a flat walking surface and good footing. Other surfaces may skew actual cow posture, either accentuating minimal problems or hiding posture irregularities.

Use the photo guide to help you judge each cow's posture and gait. Each score is based on back posture while cows walk and stand, as well as gait indicators. The photo guide contains detailed descriptions to help you score each cow. Watch each cow for a few seconds. Observe her long enough to make sure that you see her moving and standing. Then score each cow from 1 to 5, with "1" considered normal and "5" severely lame. The clinical descriptions are:

  • Locomotion score 1: Normal.
  • Locomotion score 2: Mildly lame.
  • Locomotion score 3: Moderately lame.
  • Locomotion score 4: Lame.
  • Locomotion score 5: Severely lame.

Jot your observations in a notebook or record them in a hand-held computer. Then transfer your notes to your herd management software so you have a record of cow scores.

3. Observe cows monthly

Experts recommend that you conduct locomotion scoring on a monthly basis so that you can measure progress. Although you'll still want to note cows with clinical lameness symptoms during daily interactions, set aside a specific time each month to score and record cow locomotion.

You can conduct locomotion scoring while observing cows for other purposes like body condition scoring or heat detection. Just make sure the cows aren't being rushed so you can observe their natural, or unnatural, movement.

It doesn't take much time once you get the system down pat. As you become accustomed to the scoring system, you'll become better at identifying lame cows.

Over time, if you've correctly identified the problems resulting in lameness and made appropriate corrections, lameness incidence should decrease. Fewer lame cows should be identified each month. For More Information

To obtain a copy of the Zinpro locomotion scoring guide, contact your feed supplier, nutritional adviser or visit

It is also available in Spanish.

Locomotion score 1
Locomotion score 1 is considered normal. The posture of the cow's back remains flat, even when she is walking. Each foot is placed with purpose, meaning she demonstrates few tentative moves when she has good footing.

Locomotion score 2
Locomotion score 2 is mildly lame. Cows in this category stand with their backs flat, but it arches when they walk, as demonstrated by the walking photo. Their gait is slightly abnormal in that you won't note the fluid motion demonstrated by cows with a score of one. Something is sore, and cows may benefit from examination and treatment at this level.

Locomotion score 3
Locomotion score 3 is moderately lame. Cows with this score stand and walk with an arched back. And, cows will take short strides with one or more legs moving choppily.
You definitely need to examine cows in this category.

Locomotion score 4
Locomotion score 4 is lame. Cows at this level will have arched backs, whether walking or standing. When they do walk, cows will favor one or more legs. Favored limbs will at least be partially weight bearing. Cows with this score obviously require treatment.

Locomotion score 5
Locomotion score 5 is severely lame. Cows show an arched back walking and standing, and usually refuse to bear weight on one limb. These cows may refuse to move, or have great difficulty in moving from a lying position. Cows at this level require immediate treatment.

Click here to read the first story in the two-part series: Don't let lameness limp off with your profits.