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Locomotion Scoring Helps Catch Lameness Problems Early

When we feel good, we stand tall and take full measure of our stride. The same is true for livestock. However, there may be several different issues gradually at work impacting the health of feet and legs in dairy cattle, beef cattle and swine. In order to catch lameness early before the direct and indirect costs add up, a free, objective and simple observation system has been developed called locomotion scoring.

Cost of Lameness

Lameness has costs in loss of milk production and breeding intervals in the dairy cow, reduced average daily gains in beef cattle, and in sow longevity and production.

The biggest problem in calculating the cost of lameness on a herd basis is knowing the incidence of lameness. A locomotion scoring system can help with recordkeeping related to the lameness incidence, the type of injury or lesion causing the condition, whether it is a new or chronic case, and the effectiveness of the treatment.

D.J. Sprecher at Michigan State University developed and outlined a five-point scoring system in 1997 for dairy cow locomotion scoring, including observation of the cow standing and walking — with special emphasis on the cow’s back posture which is evidence of weight redistribution. Since that time, Kansas State University and Zinpro worked together to modify the scoring for a four-point system for scoring beef cattle lameness, and Zinpro worked with the University of Minnesota in applying the system to score sow lameness, but both still take note of the animal’s back posture and movement.

Research has shown that changes in the spinal curvature have a high correlation with the presence of claw lesions, which can be the first indication of lameness and a signal that treatment should begin before more serious lesions develop. By identifying even slight back arching, you may be able to catch lameness in its initial stages and treat it before more serious lesions develop.

Cow hoof problems and claw lesions may develop from infectious (e.g., wet conditions or poor foot hygiene) or non-infectious factors (e.g., overcrowding or prolonged standing). In either case, once lameness develops past the first two levels of the locomotion scoring, it typically will only get worse and threaten the animal’s health more.

Basics of Locomotion Scoring

Whether you are scoring lameness in swine, beef cattle or dairy cows, the situation for locomotion scoring has common elements across all species:

  • Score animals regularly.
  • The animals should be observed while standing and walking on a solid, level, non-slip surface. Animals will naturally shorten their stride on a slippery surface or slats, so the scoring will not be accurate.
  • Animals should not be scored if they are running.
  • If there are pens of animals, score them together as it may help you identify the cause if it’s common to many of the animals in the pen.
  • Score dairy cows before milking, if possible. When animals have been forced to stand for a period of time they may appear lame when they actually are not.
  • The same people should be consistently involved in the scoring. They will come to understand the movement of individual animals and can notice signs of lameness earlier.

Signs of Lameness in the Herd

Here are common signs that indicate there is lameness in the herd. The more severe the expression of these signs, the higher the number in the locomotion scoring system:

  • The head nods or bobs as the lame foot hits the ground.
  • The back or spine arches more when the animal has pain in the rear feet.
  • The stride length is shortened and the dew claws of the sound limb will sink more as it bears additional weight, suggesting the animal is transferring weight from the affected opposite side.
  • There is a reduction in the animal’s normal walking speed.
  • There are frequent stops to rest the affected limb.
  • Some cows will struggle when making sharp turns or trying to rise in the stall.

Learn more about the Zinpro First Step®: Dairy Lameness Assessment and Prevention Program, Step-Up® Management Program for Beef Cattle and the Feet First® Swine Lameness Prevention program to help assess lameness issues in your animals.