The lesions that cause lameness in dairy cows result in intense pain and are a major animal welfare issue. Lameness also causes stress, which debilitates and reduces productivity. The financial impact of lameness includes losses from decreased production, cost of treatment, prolonged calving interval, and possibly nursing labor. Loss of milk of 1.7–3 L/day for up to 1 mo before and 1 mo after treatment (because of pain) plus milk discarded because of antibiotic therapy must also be considered. Lame cows are more reluctant to use automatic milking systems and show visible signs of stress when forced to do so.
At least 10% of cows in a herd are culled for reasons related to lameness. Rearing replacement heifers is expensive, and replacement animals are not initially as productive as mature cows. Cows in poor condition have a greater predisposition to lameness. Cows that are lame before breeding have a reduced ability to conceive, and cystic ovaries are much more common in lame cows. Lame cows are less aggressive in their struggle for feed and are more likely to die early or be culled.
Considerable funds are being invested in bovine lameness research; within the next decade, national databases detailing bovine lameness are expected to become increasingly available as a management tool. Although the lameness data are being collected primarily by hoof trimmers, veterinarians should be familiar with this information to continue to play a leading role in management of bovine lameness.
Last full review/revision September 2015 by Paul R. Greenough, FRCVS