Lameness is the disease that keeps on taking—lower milk production, lower fertility and increased treatment, labor and culling costs.

“Not only does lameness cause pain and distress for dairy cattle, but it also has a large economic impact on the dairy operation,” says Eric Ronk, an Extension dairy educator with the University of Wisconsin based in Chilton, Wis.

Add it all up and each case of lameness could be costing anywhere from $135 to $240 per case, depending on the causative agent, he says.

For a 300-cow herd with a 20% incidence of lameness, total annual costs could range from $8,000 to $14,400 per year. Costs will vary by causative agent, with sole ulcers being the most expensive.

Some studies show a sole ulcer can reduce milk production by more than 1,200 lb. White line disease can knock back milk output by 800 lb. and digital dermatitis anywhere from 400 lb. to 800 lb. “If a dairy operation can reduce lameness, especially sole ulcers, there can be a large economic impact to the farm,” Ronk says.

Lame cows are not as fertile, with conception delayed by an average of 30 days, and increased days open also causes an increase in feed costs. One study suggests fertility issues caused by lameness account for nearly 40% of total lameness-induced costs.

“When top producing cows become lame and potentially culled from the herd, there is also the genetic impact from lost potential daughters,” Ronk explains.

“Some of the best ways to reduce lameness is to improve cow comfort, avoid overcrowding, provide proper ventilation and develop a monitoring and treatment system,” he says.


Note: This story appeared in the November 2016 issue of Dairy Herd Management.