Cattle lameness

On dairy farms, lameness is used as an indicator of cattle welfare. Reproductive failure, decreased milk production and higher culling rates are all associated with lameness in dairy cattle. Cows also suffer pain and discomfort (García-Muñoz et al, 2017).

The Healthy Livestock project looked at improving the rate of lameness in south west dairy herds. The project’s approach incorporated group awareness events and workshops, and one to one time with the farm vet and mobility scorer.

At the beginning of the project, an average of 23% of cows within a herd were found to be lame. The percentage of lame cattle within herds ranged from 1% to 73%. However, at the end of the project, lameness within a herd fell to an average of 19%, ranging from 3% to 59%, indicating that was a trend toward improved lameness.

Potential risk factors

Herd size

Findings indicated that smaller herds had a higher initial mobility score, a pattern supported by Groehn et al. (1992) who found that smaller herds had the highest frequency of lameness. Conversely, Alban (1995) indicated a greater frequency of lameness in larger herds. Alban suggested that as more procedures are mechanised on larger farms the farmers contact with each cow is reduced as a result and this impacts on lameness.

Breed of cattle

Although the majority of herds involved in the project were comprised of Holstein Friesian and Holstein Friesian crossbreeds, where there were other breeds within a herd a lower level of lameness was observed. These findings concur with other recent studies e.g. Barker et al. (2010).

Farming system

Results also suggested that there were lower levels of lameness in organic herds. This finding is similar to that shown by Rutherford et al. (2009), who suggested differences between organic and non-organic herds were potentially a consequence of the way lameness management is approached, with organic farms often adopting proactive husbandry measures as opposed to reactive treatment.


Housing was also found to be a risk factor with cattle housed within free-stalls or cubicles shown to be under a greater risk of lameness than those housed in straw yards.


Alban, L. (1995) Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 22, 13-225

Barker Z. E., Leach, K. A., Whay, H. R., Bell, N. J., & Main, D. C. J. (2010). Journal of Dairy Science. 93, 932–941 DairyCo, 2013.

García-Muñoz, A., Singh, N., Leonardi, C. and Silva-del-Río, N., 2017. Effect of hoof trimmer intervention in moderately lame cows on lameness progression and milk yield. Journal of dairy science100(11), pp.9205-9214.

Groehn, J.A., Kaneene, J.B. and Foster, D. (1992) Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 14, 77-85.

Rutherford, K. M. D., Langford, F. M., Jack, M. C., Sherwood, L., Lawrence, A. B., & Haskell, M. J. (2009) The Veterinary Journal. 180, 95–105.

Randall et al. (2018) studied how Body Condition Score (BCS) and previous lameness events influence the total occurrence of lameness in two UK dairy herds.

Lameness was defined as 1 week with a locomotion score of 3 or above or 2 consecutive weeks with a locomotion score of 4 or 5 (severe lameness).

Between 52 and 93% of cows were lame at any one time during the study period meaning substantial resources are required to treat lameness within herds.

Majority of cases of lameness were a week in duration and represented repeat cases

Previous lameness events

  •  79-83% of lameness could be related to previous lameness events.
  •  Contribution of previous lameness events decreased with time, but remained significant
  • It can take a long time to recover from lameness
  • Factors associated with lameness/repeated cases of lameness:
    • Longer time spent with the herd
    • Animal based factors
    • Environmental factors
    • Prevention of first lameness incidence
  • It is not clear whether the first lameness event or other factors are the main influencing factor for repeat incidence of lameness.
  • It is possible that irreparable anatomical changes occur to the foot with lameness-causing claw horn lesions resulting in increased risk of re-occurrence.


    • Increasing body condition scores by 0.5 could potentially prevent 4% of lameness cases.
    • Severe lameness can be avoided in 8% of cases by preventing the BSC falling by 0.5.
    • The effects of BCS were relatively small when compared to the impact of previous lameness events.
    • In herds with limited repeat lameness, BCS should be considered when looking to further reduce lameness incidence.


Randall, L.V., Green, M.J., Green, L.E., Chagunda, M.G.G., Mason, C., Archer, S.C. and Huxley, J.N., 2018. The contribution of previous lameness events and body condition score to the occurrence of lameness in dairy herds: A study of 2 herds. Journal of dairy science101(2), pp.1311-1324.

External resources

Farm Health Online logo

Includes the following conditions: Digital Dermatitis, Foul-in-the-Foot, Hock Damage, Hygroma, Joint Ill, Laminitis, Septic Arthritis, Slurry Heel, Sole Ulcer, Super Foul, White Line Abscess

Learn to mobility score your herd with this series of videos produced by the Healthy Feet Programme.

A lesion and trouble shooter guide from AHDB

This guide from AHDB will help you identify foot conditions associated with lameness early and to provide effective treatment.

4 tips for marketing your new farm diversification project online

With more and more farmers are turning to diversification practices like holiday lets and farm shops, it’s never been more important to allocate some of your resources to create a good marketing strategy that will help you stand out from the crowd. Jonathan Birch is Creative Director at the digital marketing agency Glass Digital. Here, […]

How should I diversify my farm business?

How should I diversify? The enterprises that generated the highest incomes in 2017/18 were food processing and retailing enterprises, letting out buildings, and renewable energy (excluding solar energy). However, not all types of diversification will suit your farm. You will need to take into the account your farms location, characteristics, the resources available and factor […]

Should I diversify my farm business?

66% of farm businesses in England have diversified in some way, but what return are they seeing for their efforts? How does this sound? On average farms need to invest £10,500 (fixed and variable costs) to produce an output valuing £22800. This generates a farm business income of £12,400. In other word, there is £1.18 […]

Let’s talk Diversification

For many, diversification is a viable way forward in a time of economic change within the agricultural industry and the UK as a whole. In the 2017/18 financial year farms on average generated a farm business income of £12,400 from diversifying out of agriculture. This represented 22% of the farms business income which was more than farms generated from agriculture (£10,400) for 23% of farms.

The B word

With Brexit on the horizon there are some big changes coming to the agricultural industry. No longer will we be able to rely on payments under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy as the UK develops a new policy framework for agriculture. The European market is also important for UK exports and imports, and international trade […]

Is UK agriculture losing its competitive edge?

Although UK agriculture as become more efficient over the years, when compared to the technical efficacy and performance of principle international competitors, the industry faces a huge challenge. Cornish Agriculture faces an additional challenge with its geographical location and the distance from the principal markets for its produce. As you can see, international agriculture is […]

Succession Planning – How to remove the elephants from the room

So how do you remove the elephants from the room when it comes to succession planning? Perhaps we can use a technique from business circles known as a ‘premortem’. It involves imagining at the start of a project that it has failed, allowing those involved to visualise why, so revealing the potential pitfalls and allowing […]

4 stress busting tools

Yesterday I went on a stress awareness course run by Healthy Cornwall. I thought that I would share with you the four tools the course leader shared with us. 1. A jar of positivity I had heard of this concept before but have never been inspired to implement it. I suspect that it was because […]

Why are farmers so stressed?

There are many sources of stress in the farming environment which can impact on us both psychologically and physically. In theory, we should worry about the things that are within our circle of influence and not the things we can not control (outside our circle of influence). Easier said that done, we know. There are […]

The Tractor Wheel of Life – a quick way to check the pulse of your business

“I’ll think of something.” That’s a farmer’s answer to every problem – and usually they do as they’re incredibly resourceful, talented people with an amazing work ethic. They do it until it comes to their own wellbeing. Many of you reading the words ‘farmer’s wellbeing’ are probably starting to feel uncomfortable, a bit flushed and […]