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Let’s Talk About Lameness in Dairy Cows

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
September 3, 2014        
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

Let’s Talk About Lameness in Dairy Cows
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn.(09/03/2014) — It’s no secret that lameness can lead to big problems on a farm, so staying on top of it can be crucial to your herd’s overall health and profitability.

First thing’s first-can you recognize lameness?  I know, it seems like a silly question-of course we know what a lame cow looks like!  She’s the one limping!  While that is very true, cows with a visible limp have usually been lame for quite some time.  To reduce pain and negative impact, catching lameness early is important.  Let’s review locomotion scoring using the scale developed by Zinpro, which scores cattle 1-5.

  • A score of 1 indicates a normal cow.  She stands and walks with a level back, and makes long, confident strides.
  • A score of 2 is a cow that is mildly lame.  When standing, her back will be flat, but will arch when she walks.  Her gait will be slightly abnormal.
  • A score of 3 is given to a moderately lame cow.  She stands and walks with an arched back and short strides with one or more legs. Slight sinking of dew-claws in limb opposite to the affected limb may be evident.
  • A score of 4 is a cow that is lame.  When standing and walking, her back is arched.  She’ll favor one or more limbs, but can still bear some weight on them.  Sinking of the dew claws is evident in the limb opposite of the affected limb.
  • A score of 5 indicates a severely lame cow.  There will be pronounced arching of the back, she will be reluctant to move, and will almost completely transfer weight off of the affected limbs. 

As indicated by the score descriptions, looking at the cow’s back while both standing and walking can be a good indicator of lameness.  Catching and treating lame cows early, before they are 4’s or 5’s will greatly improve animal welfare and prevent long term problems with the animal.  The best way to look for lameness is to spend some time watching your cows.  Learn how they walk so you can see a problem more easily when there is one.  Observe them heading to the parlor, exiting the parlor, and as they wander around the barn.  As with any problem on the farm, the key to good management is early detection and aggressive prevention.


Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
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