New analysis funded by McDonald’s UK highlights importance of early detection in tackling dairy cattle lameness

New analysis from sustainable farming research and development centre, FAI (Food Animal Initiative), funded by McDonald’s UK, shows regular mobility scoring can help farmers detect and tackle dairy cattle lameness earlier as well as reduce associated production losses.

The publication of the analysis comes amidst growing concern from the dairy industry about the cost of lameness. Recent figures show that at any one time around a quarter of all dairy cows are affected by some degree of lameness. DairyCo estimate that the cost to farmers, including the cost of treatment, loss of yield and potentially shorter productive life, could equate to nearly £15,000 for an average-sized herd[1].

The analysis was funded by McDonald’s as part of Farm Forward – its long-term programme to create a sustainable future for British and Irish farming – and used data collected as part of a three-year study on four dairy farms across south-west England, supported by the Dartington Cattle Breeding Trust. It found that a substantial proportion of lame dairy cows remain affected for several weeks, indicating that they are either not treated or are treated unsuccessfully. However, fortnightly mobility scoring can enable detection before cows become severely lame.

To support farmers with mobility scoring, FAI and McDonald’s have produced a Mobility Score Decision Tree, a practical tool to aid mobility score assessment that is available to download for free.

Lindsey Carnell, a student on McDonald’s Progressive Young Farmer training programme, is one of the first farmers to trial the tool. She is collecting data on a dairy farm in Staffordshire where she is being mentored by progressive farmers James and Jonathan Pickford to see what impact housing and location have on lameness within a herd.

Lindsey said:

“With FAI’s help I’ve been mobility scoring dairy cows immediately after milking. By collecting and analysing data about the farm’s 420 dairy cows in different housing and locations, I want to identify what impact this has on a herd and identify practical ways to improve mobility.”

Ruth Clements, Head of Veterinary Programmes, FAI, said:

“Lameness is one of the foremost health and welfare challenges facing the UK dairy industry, but this research shows that regular mobility scoring can help detect mobility problems earlier, while still being reasonably practical for farmers. This enables intervention before cows become severely lame, by which time their welfare and productivity are likely affected.”

Connor McVeigh, Director of Supply Chain, McDonald’s UK, said:

“As a big customer of British and Irish agriculture, we know how important it is to create a sustainable future for the sector. That’s why we are committed to developing and sharing knowledge that will help farmers improve welfare standards and run more profitable businesses.”

Using data collected by researchers from the University of Bristol (as part of a larger research project funded by the Dartington Cattle Breeding Trust) and the DairyCo ‘0-3′ mobility score system (where ‘0’ indicates good mobility, ‘1’ indicates imperfect mobility, ‘2’ indicates impaired mobility and ‘3’ indicates severely impaired mobility) the study found:

· Dairy cows usually transition from being sound to lame over several weeks, with only 1.5% of scores showing cattle got worse by more than one point on the mobility scale between fortnightly measurements. This suggests farmers have an opportunity to identify and address most mobility problems before cows become severely lame.

· 70% of ‘score 2′ animals (impaired mobility) were still lame a fortnight later, suggesting that a substantial proportion of lame animals are either not being treated or are being treated unsuccessfully. This puts them at risk of becoming chronically lame, with a long-term effect on welfare and productivity.

To download the Mobility Score Decision Tree visit: http://www.faifarms.com/resources/assets/fai/publication/studies/Fai-Mobility-Score-Decision-Tree.pdf

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