Measuring Mobility Helps Dairy Farmers Save

UK - Poor mobility in dairy cows can cost farmers an average of £180 per case through lost milk sales, treatments and productivity. To help farmers address these concerns DairyCo has launched a new mobility score aiming to become the industry standard for measuring lameness in dairy herds.
calendar icon 3 October 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

The new score is set to rid the industry of the confusion surrounding locomotion and mobility scoring replacing over 16 commonly used assessment methods – all with different measurement criteria and terminology – with one industry recognised score.

It is estimated that 25% of the national herd is lame at any one time, representing a massive drain on the industry. Significant savings can therefore be made by farmers adopting a regular procedure to aid earlier identification and therefore prompt action.

Extensively tested by vets, farmers and researchers, the new method is based on a fourpoint system with scores ranging from 0 – 3. A cow scoring 0, the best possible score, will have good mobility and walk with even weight bearing and rhythm on all four feet, with a flat back. At the other end of the scale, a cow scoring 3 will be unable to keep up with the healthy herd and will either show uneven weight bearing on a limb that is immediately identifiable or walk with shortened strides with an arched back.

The new system is easy to apply and for farmers to reap the benefits needs to be carried out regularly. Benefits include:

  • Early detection of any mobility problems results in prompt identification and management
  • Poor mobility trends can be monitored and causes identified
  • Provision of figures for benchmarking performance
  • General foot health awareness is increased
  • Motivates farm staff to improve herd mobility all resulting in significant improvements to cow welfare and overall herd health.

The new score is the result of 18 months research, consultation and discussion with all sectors of industry including farmers, vets, retailers and animal health and welfare groups. Vet and research fellow, Dr Nick Bell from Bristol University has worked closely with DairyCo on the project. He says: “By simplifying the scoring system, farmers can now conduct mobility scoring on farm without the need for professional help. For effective monitoring, farmers should check the dairy herd at least once a month and choose a time and a place which allows them to observe cows ideally on a hard (ie concrete) non-slip surface.”

He continues: “Critically if a farmer doesn’t score his cows regularly, the reality is that he may have a lot of cows in score 2 without even realising it. The impact on yield loss, fertility and longevity can be huge so there are significant welfare and financial benefits from adopting the scoring system. In fact, by intercepting lameness early, farmers can save hidden costs for treatment and loss of milk production of up to £4,000 a year for every 100 cows.”

Nick Cobb, dairy farmer from near Dorchester backs the industry-wide scoring system. He says: “Mobility scoring gave our team a more in-depth awareness of how a cow should walk. Scoring every two weeks helped us pick up individual cows which are less mobile at the earliest opportunity for a foot trim before they go lame. We now believe this is a crucial part of managing our 700 cow dairy herd.”

Brian Lindsay, head of research and development at DairyCo says: “Through consultation with farmers we discovered that foot health was one of the top three issues they wanted to address, and together with industry we have worked to produce a score which is easy to use and easy to understand. Also, now with some milk supply contracts requiring information on mobility scores, the requirement for a common scoring method has become vital to ensure clarity in application and like-for-like analysis. “This new system will free the industry of the confusion which has previously gone handin- hand with scoring and assessing lameness due largely to the wide variety of scoring systems available.”

A pictorial scoring guide with descriptors and action points and scoring sheets are available from the DairyCo publications department by emailing [email protected] or calling 01285 646510. Materials are also available to download from the DairyCo website at Visit the Farm Management section and click on What’s New or Business Tools. Farmers interested in learning more can attend any of the discussion groups run by DairyCo extension officers around the country.

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