Dairy Cow Lameness: What’s The Cost?

Studies have shown that the cost of treatment accounts for just 10% of the economic losses incurred by a lame cow and veterinary visits for only 1%

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What do you think is the biggest cause of economic loss when a dairy cow goes lame?

Have you ever hesitated to call us out to treat lameness in your dairy herd because you were worried about the cost of treatment? If so, we have some good news. Studies have shown that the cost of treatment accounts for just 10% of the economic losses incurred by a lame cow and veterinary visits for only 1%**. So, if cost is holding you back, please don’t hesitate to contact us now!

If you are thinking of enhancing your lameness management strategy or looking to develop a long-term plan that strips out unnecessary cost on your dairy farm, then read on…

What Farmers Say About The Cost Of Lameness In Dairy Cows

When asked to attribute costs incurred because of lame dairy cows, most farmers told researchers that they perceived the biggest costs to be:

  1. A loss of milk production, and
  2. Treating lame cows*

Interestingly, these two reasons were mentioned almost twice as often as the next most popular answer, but when the lameness data was analysed, researchers came up with some pretty surprising findings.

Contrary to farmer perceptions, the biggest single source of economic loss associated with lame dairy cattle is infertility** – including a 3.5 times rise in the number of cows showing delayed cyclicity, leading to an increase in the calving-to-conception interval of up to 50 days***.

Infertility accounts for almost 40% of the economic losses associated with lameness – a significant and underestimated financial impact. Other significant contributors to costs included increased cull rates and reduced milk yield, accounting for around 25% each – with increased farm labour, vet costs and treatment together accounting for the remainder**. This is not what most of us expected!

How Dairy Cow Lameness Causes A Fall In Fertility

It’s easy to understand how lameness can cause a drop in milk production (by 270-850 kg per lactation***). Pain and discomfort can quickly cause a change in feeding patterns, including an impaired ability to compete for space at the food or water trough and a reduced desire to stand for long periods, preventing optimal food intake.

But Why Should Fertility Be Affected By Lameness?

There are several reasons****:

  • Reduced feed intake, resulting in negative energy balance. The loss of weight and condition can start even before lameness is observed.
  • Behaviour – it may be more difficult to identify the signs of oestrus in lame cows and these signs may be less obvious, or apparent for shorter periods.
  • Stress can have an adverse effect on ovarian function and follicular development, with a potential delay in cycling or in the timing of ovulation.
  • Inflammation can be associated with an increase in the service to conception interval. This may be caused by an increased production of prostaglandin (PGF2a) – a chemical messenger that is important in the regulation of the cow’s oestrus cycle*****. Chronic inflammatory changes in the tissues of the foot can take some time to treat, so these effects can be longer lasting.

All these factors combine, meaning the effects of lameness on fertility can be quite marked:

  • Cows are 9 times more likely to need an increased number of services compared to the herd average*****
  • There is a 3.5 times increased risk of delayed cyclicity****
  • The calving to conception interval can increase by up to 50 days****

Is there something more you could be doing to manage lameness in your herd?

Our practice is taking part in CEVA’s ‘Wave Goodbye to Pain’ initiative by encouraging early lameness detection, regular mobility scoring and prompt treatment.

To find out more call us on 01332 294929.


* Leach K.A. et al. 2010. Working towards reduction in cattle lameness: 1. Understanding the barriers to lameness control on dairy farms. Res. Vet. Sci. 89: 311-317.
** Willshire J.A. & Bell N.J. 2009. An economic review of cattle lameness. Cattle Practice. 17(2): 136-141.
*** Huxley J.N. 2013. Impact of lameness and claw lesions in cows on health and production Livestock Science. 156: 64-70.
**** Huxley – Are lameness and infertility in dairy cows linked? Cattle practice 2009 Vol 17; 13- 15
***** https://www.nadis.org.uk/disease-a-z/cattle/fertility-in-dairy-herds-advanced/part-5 -the-impact-of-mastitis-and-lameness-on-fertility/

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