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It’s dangerous to work off of impressions. yet, without lameness records, that’s exactly what you’re doing. You can spend money needlessly by chasing the wrong solutions, says Dan Tracy, veterinarian with Circle H Animal Health in Dalhart, Texas.

Lameness records allow you to see what’s truly going on. They can be used to pinpoint the underlying cause of lameness on farm and to monitor results after a change. And when combined with regular locomotion scoring of cows, you can actually prevent cows from becoming visibly lame.   


The handheld computer shows a sample screen for recording lameness information in the Pocket Dairy program. Subscription cost is $10 per month. To learn more, talk to your local DHIA service center, or visit

Record-keeping systems don’t need to be elaborate. But they do need to be consistent. Follow these four steps to identify and correct the causes of lameness on your farm. 

Step 1. Pick a system

Lameness records can be tracked on paper in a simple Excel spreadsheet or even in most dairy records-management programs. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; many tracking systems are already in place.  Get input from your veterinarian and hoof trimmer. Ask what record systems they already use.

If you work with a professional hoof trimmer, see if he will record the data for you. Karl Burgi, professional hoof trimmer with Comfort Hoof Care in Baraboo, Wis., records lameness information for all of his dairy clients. Using a paper form that he developed with the help of University of Wisconsin veterinarian Nigel Cook, he records information for each cow. (Please see ABC Lameness on page 48.) Burgi keeps the records for five years. That way, he has historical data on each cow to track her progress, and he can generate a list of “high-maintenance” cows that need to be trimmed on a more-frequent basis to keep their feet in good form.

For those of you who prefer computerized records, you can track lameness information in Dairy Comp 305 by using the user-defined fields. Or, you can use a small handheld computer running Pocket Dairy, which includes a lameness-recording system to input lameness data cow-side. (For more on Pocket Dairy, please see page 44.) 

Step 2. Define the records

Lameness records can be as detailed or as simple as you like. Most farms have a handful of problems that continually plague them. So, simply tracking those problems — in order to quantify the problem and spot trends -— is a great place to start.

The following list shows the type of records you should keep. It was developed with the help of Burgi and Tracy, along with Jan Shearer, University of Florida extension dairy veterinarian, and Greg Goodell, veterinarian with The Dairy Authority in Greeley, Colo.  Use it in combination with the information graphic on page 46 to understand and correctly identify each condition.

  • Sole ulcers. Sole ulcers are a contusion of the corium that interrupts horn formation. They generally occur on the inner side of the outside hind claw. They can be caused by laminitis, slug feeding due to heat stress, rumen acidosis and too much time spent standing. They also can be caused by lack of trimming, or incorrect hoof trimming.
  • White-line separation. A white-line separation occurs when the connection between the horn of the sole and of the wall is disrupted. It can be caused by laminitis, slug feeding due to heat stress, rumen acidosis, and incorrect trimming. 
  • Infectious problems, such as foot rot and digital dermatitis. Contagious diseases are caused by environmental problems. Wet, muddy conditions and poor manure management are usually to blame.
  • Upper leg injuries. Any injury to the hip, stifle, or upper leg is considered an upper leg injury. These types of injuries generally occur due to slips and falls. Common causes include aggressive use of a crowd gate, slippery floors, employees hurrying cows, and sometimes the use of large bulls. In heifers entering the milking herd, shoulder injuries can occur when employees in the parlor are “too quick” with some rapid-exit gates.
  • Heel erosions. These occur when the normally smooth bulb of the heel becomes pitted and ridged from a bacterial infection. Wet, humid and muddy conditions weaken the epidermis and allow the bacteria to penetrate. 
  • Claw imbalance. For a cow to walk correctly her claws must be balanced so that each claw bears equal weight. A claw imbalance can occur from a bad trim, when a cow has a corkscrew toe, or other issue that causes one claw to grow faster than the other. These cows simply need to be flagged so that they are trimmed more often.

Depending on where you live and the type of facilities you have, you may want to track other issues, such as thin soles. The goal is to identify the top four or five problems in your herd and then track those. But you also need a way to identify and track a new problem.

In addition, you may want to track the severity of the problem. For example, Burgi uses a system that differentiates between a sole ulcer 1 and a sole ulcer 2. That allows him to determine if an animal is getting better or not.

Step 3. Provide training

In order to get the most out of the records you keep, you must train the people who will be trimming the cows. It doesn’t matter if you have trimmers on staff, use a professional hoof trimmer, or a combination of the two, everyone who will be recording lameness information needs to be on the same page, stresses Goodell. To get the most benefit from the records, everyone must be able to correctly identify a sole ulcer versus a white-line separation each and every time.

If you are working with your veterinarian to start tracking lameness, ask him to conduct training for your trimmers. If you use a professional hoof trimmer, but also have someone on staff who handles problems that arise, have your professional hoof trimmer train that person.

Step 4. Analyze the data

Now that you have started tracking lameness, make sure that you analyze the data. The other alternative is to send data to your veterinarian each month for analysis.

Data can be helpful in finding trends or emerging patterns. They also can help you pinpoint the causes of lameness.

Take, for example, hairy heel warts. If you mainly see cases in early-lactation cows, it means that once they re-enter the milking string the footbaths take care of the problem, explains Shearer. But if the incidence of hairy heel warts persists throughout lactation, or if it increases with days in milk it may indicate that the footbath is not working, or that there is another underlying cause, such as faulty manure management.

Once you start looking at the records, explains Shearer, they will reveal clues about the possible causes. Then, with a little investigation, you can start honing in on the cause of your lameness problems, making corrections and gradually reducing the incidence.

Use locomotion scoring, too

While keeping and using lameness records will go a long way toward reducing lameness on farm, you can go one step better. Use locomotion scoring to find cows before they appear visibly lame.

Cows that are in the midst of developing a foot problem, but not yet visibly lame, will alter how they walk. By locomotion scoring your cows on a regular basis, you can learn to identify those cows, treat them and stop their lameness from progressing.

To learn more about locomotion scoring, contact Zinpro Corporation. Call (800) 445-6145 to request a free locomotion-scoring poster.