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0609 PD: Come on, let’s do the locomotion

Eric Sonnek Published on 09 April 2009

While you are walking around it is not uncommon to get a rock in your shoe or accidentally twist an ankle. We have the luxury of getting our feet quickly inspected to see if something is wrong with them or even switching shoes if they hurt our feet. Cows do not have that luxury and need to have their feet trimmed and maintained to keep them happy on their feet.

Cow hoof health is a very important part of any dairy operation. Cows that are lame have reduced milk production, reduced fertility and overall stress on themselves and the producer. Lame cows also are more prone to injuring themselves in the stalls or even walking on cement or another hard surface. A good place to start on your farm is to do a locomotion score on your herd and then do a treatment plan.



Locomotion scoring is very easy to do while you are watching cows for heats or even bringing cows into the barn or milking parlor. The locomotion score card ranges from 1 to 5, with 1 being a completely normal cow and 5 being a severely lame cow. To score each cow you just need to ask yourself a series of questions.

First, is the cow favoring a limb? If you answer yes, then she gets either a 4 or a 5. If she is not putting any weight on one leg she gets a 5 and if she does put some weight on it she gets a 4.

If you do not notice her favoring any limb, you then ask if she stands with her back arched. If it is yes, then she gets a 3. If she stands normal, then you watch her walk. If she walks with an arched back she gets a 2; if not, a 1.

The following chart gives a set of descriptions to quickly analyze your herd.

= Normal


= Mildly lame; arches back slightly when walking; gait slightly abnormal

= Moderately lame; stands with arched back, walks with arched back; gait has short strides with one or more legs

Score 4 = Lame; arched back standing and walking; one or more legs favored but can partially bear weight

= Severely lame; arched back; refuses to bear weight on one limb; may refuse moving or have great difficulty moving from lying position

Once you have done locomotion scoring on your herd, it is time to evaluate the results. On average 5 to 10 percent of your herd will score a 4 or 5 on the locomotion scorecard. If less than 5 percent of your herd scores that high, you are doing a good job with lameness and hoof health on your farm.

If it is more than 10 percent, you need to look at ways to improve your hoof health soon. This might involve starting a footbath, doing a better job maintaining a footbath or getting a hoof trimmer in on a regular basis. There are many commercial products available for use as a footbath and this is a discussion that you should have with your veterinarian or extension educator. If you are looking for a hoof trimmer, ask your neighbors and other producers who they have on their farm as well as if they are pleased with them.


Another way to use locomotion scoring is to identify cows that should be trimmed to hopefully prevent them from getting to a score of 4 or 5. Cows that score a 2 or 3 can be evaluated to alleviate a problem before it becomes a major problem.

It is becoming more of a common practice to trim all cows at dry-off and problem ones when they arise. People are also looking at trimming heifers to encourage correct growth and take care of any possible problems before they calve and are productive. Doing the maintenance trimming and preventative trimming like this helps cows continue to be more productive during their lactation.

To keep your cows as productive as possible, keep them as comfortable as possible. You are not as productive in your day-to-day activities if you have a broken or sore foot or hand. Your herd and bottom line will improve by being proactive and trying to prevent many of these possible problems. PD

—Excerpts from University of Minnesota Extension Morrison County website