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Preparing for a FARM evaluation

Lindsay Ferlito for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 November 2017
bedding materials

Preparing for a National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program evaluation can be beneficial in many ways, like getting records and protocols up-to-date and tracking the prevalence of lameness in the herd.

As part of the FARM evaluation, a certain percentage of the herd will be observed, with all age groups assessed for body condition score and hygiene, and dry and lactating animals also scored for lameness and hock and knee injuries.

The target is for 95 percent of the animals to score a 2 or less on the locomotion scale, where 1 = sound, 2 = moderately lame and 3 = severely lame. This is a reasonable target given that various studies indicate the average prevalence of lameness in lactating cows in the U.S. is anywhere from 11 to 55 percent overall (score 2 and 3) and about 3 to 4 percent severe (score 3).

The FARM program is science- and outcome-based and supports continual improvement. It’s understood that good animal care and low lameness can be achieved in many ways and with different facilities. Given that lameness is a multi-factorial issue, several management factors will play a role in reaching these program targets and reducing lameness.

Stall comfort

  • Stall sizing: One of the best ways to reduce and prevent lameness is to provide cows with access to well-designed, comfortable stalls. While stall size recommendations vary based on cow size, a lot of older stalls just aren’t big enough for mature cows anymore. There are, however, some changes that can be made without a large investment in new stalls.

    For example, lameness prevalence is reduced when the neckrail is positioned to allow cows to stand with all four feet in the stall compared to a more aggressive placement that forces cows to perch with two feet. Lameness and lying time can also be negatively affected by a brisket board that is too high (it’s recommended to only be 4 inches tall) or too close to the rear curb of the stall.

  • Base and bedding: Stall base and bedding also play a large role in keeping cows comfortable and healthy. Overall and severe lameness are lower on deep beds compared to other stall bases (mattresses, mats, waterbeds and concrete), and lame cows lie down longer on deep beds.

    Deep beds aren’t a possibility on every farm, but their benefits can be replicated on farms that have other stall bases by using ample amounts of clean, dry bedding. Cows lie down longer with more bedding, and the odds of lameness are higher on herds with less than 1 inch of bedding on the stalls.

    Cows also lie down longer when the bedding is dry, and higher severe lameness is associated with dirtier stalls. By maintaining the stalls, cows will have better hygiene scores and less lameness.

  • Accessibility: Cows need adequate access to these stalls. High stall stocking density (greater than 110 percent) can reduce lying time, and a recent study noted higher stocking densities were associated with more severely lame cows.

    Furthermore, lower time spent out of the pen for milking was associated with lower lameness prevalence, so get cows back to the pen as soon as possible, but don’t rush them. One study found cows in pens that had more slips and falls were twice as likely to be lame.

    Utilizing calm cattle-handling techniques and having properly grooved non-slip flooring will aid in good cattle movement and, as a result, reduce injuries and lameness.

Control lameness

  • Treatment protocols: Treating lame cows earlier has been associated with increased rates of recovery, so having protocols in place to prevent lameness, and to identify and treat lame cows, is crucial and required by the FARM program.

    These protocols should be developed through collaboration among the herd management team, vet and hoof trimmer. Additionally, as part of the FARM program, employees need to be trained on these protocols and their specific duties, and there needs to be signed documentation of the training.

    Any employees who will be identifying, trimming, treating or culling lame cows should be adequately trained in how to do so and should fully understand the respective protocols.

  • Monitoring and record-keeping: Continual monitoring of lameness and utilizing resources available, such as consultants, extension and herd veterinarians, has been shown to help reduce lameness over time. Whether it’s in a dairy software program or handwritten and saved in a binder, records should be saved and include current lameness scores and lame cow lists, trimming records and treatment records.

    Ask the hoof trimmer what system they use to record lameness and the type of data they are already collecting. Understanding what types of lameness issues are common (ulcers, digital dermatitis, white-line separation, etc.) will provide more information when trying to determine the facility and management factors influencing lameness in the herd.

    Keeping records for three to five years will help track lameness trends and spikes throughout the year as well as chronic problem cows. This helps identify cows that need to leave the herd due to feet and leg issues, resulting in more timely culling decisions.

Overall, low lameness can be achieved in many different types of facilities with the right management. Good stall maintenance and access, calm cattle handling, adequate training, protocols and record-keeping can all play a role in reducing and preventing lameness and reaching the FARM Program lameness targets.

Please visit National Dairy FARM Program, for more information. end mark

PHOTO: Whether the bedding material is sand, dried manure solids, wood byproduct or others, research shows cows lie down longer in stalls with more bedding, and the odds of lameness are higher on herds with less than 1 inch of bedding in the stalls. Photo provided by Peggy Coffeen.

Lindsay Ferlito is the regional dairy specialist with Cornell University Cooperative Extension. Email LIndsay Ferlito.

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