Lameness in dairy cattle can be an important production-limiting condition.


Lameness is a problem which has become more serious with the average weight of dairy cows increasing from the predominant Jersey herds to more cross-bred and Holstein Friesian herds. Also, with the larger herd sizes, cows are having to walk longer distances with more chance of hoof problems. Lameness can be an animal welfare issue with the pain and discomfort associated with lameness. The reported annual incidence of lameness has been estimated between 2.5% and 31%.

Types of Lameness and Contributing Causes.

Up to 90% of lameness is associated with claw lesions; the rest upper limb problems. Of these 80% occur in the hindlimbs and most involve the outer claw.

The most common claw problems are associated with white line disease sole injuries, and interdigital necrosis of the claw (footrot). They commonly occur around calving when there is excessive wear of the sole, particularly in wet seasons when the sole is soft. Walking long distances is an important factor.

Economic Importance.

Lameness is the third most important cause of economic loss behind reproduction and mastitis.

Costs include:

  • Costs of treatment.
  • Withholding milk because of antibiotics.
  • Prevention of lameness.
  • Culling because of lameness.
  • Decreased milk production.
  • Reduced body condition.
  • Poorer reproductive performance.


Prevention of Lameness.

It is important that the causes of the lameness are identified. These include:

  • Poor entries and exits to the milking shed.
  • Poor races with areas of mud, sharp or large gravel.
  • Races too narrow for the size of the herd.
  • Tight corners in the race.
  • Cows being forced to move quickly. 
  • Some nutritional causes.

Cows walk with their heads down. A cow places her front foot on a safe spot and in normal walking places the hind food in exactly the same place. If a cow cannot see where she is placing her front foot, because of crowding or moving too quickly, the chances of lameness are significantly increased.

Treatment of Lameness

Once identification of the affected foot or feet has been made the foot needs lifting for examination. Good facilities are needed for the safe lifting of feet. Using hoof testers, a hoof knife and cutters, the problem is identified and the hoof cut back to follow any dark lines, removing any underrunning and releasing any pus.