Simplifying scoring to aid like-for-like analysis

With poor mobility costing £180 per case through lost milk sales, treatments and productivity, DairyCo has launched a mobility score it hopes will become the ‘industry standard’ for measuring lameness in dairy herds.

There are over 16 commonly-used assessment methods of locomotion and mobility scoring (all with different measurement criteria and terminology). DairyCo said it wanted to replace those with one ‘industry recognised score’ to remove any confusion.

According to the organisation, it has been ‘extensively tested’ by vets, farmers and researchers.

A cow scoring 0, the best possible score, will have good mobility and walk with even weight bearing and rhythm on all four feet and have a flat back.

At the other end of the scale, a cow scoring 3 will be unable to keep up with the healthy herd and will either show uneven weight bearing on a limb that is immediately identifiable or walk with shortened strides and an arched back.

Mobility score cows when they are on hard, non-slip surface, such as concrete.
Credit: © FARMERS GUARDIAN please contact 01772 799445.
Mobility score cows when they are on hard, non-slip surface, such as concrete.

Regular checks

DairyCo says the system is easy to apply, but farmers would have to carry it out regularly in order to reap the benefits, which include:

  • Early detection of any mobility problems resulting in prompt identification and management.
  • Poor mobility trends can be monitored and causes identified.
  • Provision of figures for benchmarking performance.
  • Increased awareness of general foot health.
  • Motivation of farm staff to improve herd mobility.

All these would result in significant improvements to cow welfare and overall herd health.

Dr Nick Bell, from Bristol University, has worked closely with DairyCo on the project.

“By simplifying the scoring system, farmers can now conduct mobility scoring on farm without the need for professional help,” he says. “For effective monitoring farmers should check the dairy herd at least once a month and choose a time and a place which allows them to observe cows, ideally on a hard (concrete, for example), non-slip surface.

“If a farmer doesn’t score his cows regularly, the reality is that he may have a lot of cows in score 2 without even realising it. The impact on yield loss, fertility and longevity can be huge, so there are significant welfare and financial benefits from adopting the scoring system.

“In fact, by intercepting lameness early, farmers can save hidden costs for treatment and loss of milk production of up to £4,000 a year for every 100 cows.”

Brian Lindsay, head of research and development at DairyCo, says: “Through consultation with farmers we discovered that foot health was one of the top three issues they wanted to address, and together with industry we have worked to produce a score which is easy to use and easy to understand.

“Also, now with some milk supply contracts requiring information on mobility scores, therequirement for a common scoring method has become vital to ensure clarity in application and like-for-like analysis.

“This new system will free the industry of the confusion which has previously gone hand-in-hand with scoring and assessing lameness due largely to the wide variety of scoring systems available.”

INDUSTRY-WIDE research

The score is the result of 18 months research, consultation, and discussion with industry, including farmers, vets, consultants (Kingshay, Adas, Dairy Group and Kite), researchers/ universities (including SAC, Writtle, Glasgow, Bristol, Liverpool, Warwick, Nottingham, AFBINI, BBSRC, Harper Adams, RVC), animal health and welfare groups (RSPCA, NADIS, NACFT), farmer organisations (NMR, Holstein UK, Soil Association, NFU) and the Government (Defra).

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