The National Animal Health Monitoring System estimates the percentage of cow deaths due to lameness or injury increased from 12.7 percent in 1996 to 20 percent in 2007. In addition, the 2007 National Market Cow and Bull Quality Audit found that 49 percent of dairy cows arriving at beef packing plants were lame. The Dairy Animal Care and Quality Assurance (DACQA) program recognizes hoof health management as one aspect of caring for dairy cattle and recommends the following:

  • Use lameness scoring to identify subtle problems early — before they become advanced clinical disease.
  • Use footbaths and clean them regularly.
  • Employ a competent hoof trimmer.
  • Pay attention to nutrition issues such as particle length and effective fiber in the ration.
  • Provide non-slip surfaces for confident footing, especially in high traffic areas.
  • Scrape or flush alleys routinely to keep passageways drier.
  • To avoid injuries, keep cows calm by directing their movements through rounded curves instead of sharp turns.
  • Provide yielding surfaces such as rubber mats around feed bunks and in holding areas. In some management settings, giving cows a few hours a day on sod is another alternative.
  • Avoid overcrowding, allowing adequate space for animals to lie down.
  • Minimize time in the holding pen prior to milking.
  • Cows at a lameness score of 3 or 4 are at increased risk for becoming disabled during transportation and pre-harvest handling and may require alternative marketing strategies. A cow in this condition can walk onto the truck one day and be non-ambulatory (downer) the next. Even though downer cattle represent a small percentage of occurrences on dairy farms or in the marketing and beef processing system, they are the number one consumer confidence and public trust issue facing the dairy industry today.
  • A score 5 animal that resists getting up is well beyond the window for profitable and responsible culling. These animals are a liability to both the dairy and beef industries and must not be marketed. The condition of score 5 animals should be evaluated for treatment or euthanasia.

Source: Dairy Calf and Heifer Association