Lameness in dairy cows is an important topic particularly as cows move from grazing in the summer months to housing during the winter months. The economic costs of a lame cow can be anything from £75 up to £500 which includes treatment, milk yield losses and fertility issues.

Lameness can be divided into three types: claw horn lesions, skin lesions or non-foot lameness. There are multiple factors that can cause lameness including areas within the housing of dairy cows.

The quality of the floors that the cows walk on to move between the cubicles, feed face and parlour can influence lameness levels in the herd. Before the cows move inside for the winter, a walk round the shed to check for areas of damaged concrete and fixing these areas can help reduce lameness.

If cows must stand for extended periods of time on hard surfaces, this can also increase lameness levels. Consider how long your cows are required to wait prior to entering the parlour, reducing this length of time can improve the lameness levels within the herd. Ensuring that slurry levels are kept to a minimum particularly in passageways and areas where cows spend time standing can reduce bacteria entering the hooves and causing lameness.

Ensuring the cubicles and bedding are comfortable and suitable for your cows is important for reducing injuries to the hocks and knees. Reducing these injuries will lower the risk of lameness and there are simple measures that you can do on farm to improve cubicle comfort. Cubicles should be designed according to the size of your cows and their needs, with dimensions of the cubicles determined by the largest cows within your herd.

Each cubicle should provide appropriate space for each cow to complete her forward lunge when standing up and make lying down easy. If lying down is difficult due to limited space at the front of a cubicle, cows will show hesitation in lying down which can reduce her lying times. Each day, a cow should spend between 12 and 14 hours lying down so it is important that a cow can do this with ease and the cubicle provides a comfortable space for her.

Similarly, the position of the neck rail in a cubicle is important, if the neck rail is too restrictive (i.e., too low or too far forward) then this can increase levels of lameness in the herd due to cows perching in the cubicle and spending less time lying down.

Now that the cubicle dimensions are correct for your herd, the next area of housing to consider is the bedding for the cubicles. Bedding is provided for two reasons, to provide comfort whilst lying down and to keep the area clean which will in turn keep your cows clean. When cows lie down, they will drop to their front knees first which do not carry a large amount of subcutaneous fat which means the bedding needs to be soft to reduce the risk of injury.

A quick way to determine the softness of the bedding is to complete a quick knee test which involves dropping to your knees in a variety of your cubicles. If it is uncomfortable for you then it will be uncomfortable for your cows. Sand and sawdust as bedding for the cubicles are considered the most effective type of bedding for reducing injury as cows are lying down, mats can cause injury without the sand and sawdust.

Ensuring that the housing available to your dairy cows is appropriate and comfortable is vital for reducing the lameness levels of the herd. Simple changes can make significant differences to the hooves of your cows.