Lameness

Why monitor lameness?

Lameness is amongst the most costly health problems of dairy cows, together with mastitis and reduced fertility. The yearly cost of lameness is estimated at 53 euro per cow on an average dairy farm. Lameness is an extremely common problem, a Liverpool study in the UK reported finding a mean lameness prevalence of 26%, some farms having a prevalence of over 50%. A figure of 30% has also been suggested by INRA in France for clinically lame cows housed indoors. It often goes unnoticed by farmers and stock people, and can fail to be treated seriously by stockmen (who may see it as an unavoidable norm). Lameness can be more common in cubicle housing than in either straw yards, or where the cows are given access to outdoors. Current management tends towards cubicles with zero-grazing, which are likely to increase the possibility of lameness among the stock. 

How to monitor lameness?

Researchers have been developing a variety of lameness monitoring measurement systems to help the farmers detect lame cows in their herd. This includes:

  • Pressure mat-based systems: Using load cells or pressure mats features such as the weight distribution of walking or standing cows is analysed, e.g. StepMetrix
  • Camera-based systems: The shape of the cow is extracted from 2D or 3D videos of the cows. Thermal cameras are also used to detect infections or lesions in the claws, e.g. Miracle Tech
  • Accelerometer-based systems: Step counters or accelerometers are attached to the head, neck or legs of the cows to monitor their activity patterns, e.g. IceQube or IceTag.
  • Alternative methods: Data that is already available in the farm such as milk yield, feed intake and rumination time is combined to detect lameness. Combining automatic records of a range of different behaviours and production parameters that are known to be affected by lameness within an analytical model has been tried. German research investigated the effectiveness of combining records for milk yield, dry matter intake, drinking, number of visits to feeders, time taken to feed and activity. They reported an encouraging success rate at identifying lameness in this way, but it was not considered sufficiently reliable for practical use by farmers. 

Unfortunately, there are not many comercial systems available for lameness detection - but one such system is CowAlert by IceRobotics, a leg tag combining monitoring of lameness with heat detection. 

Professional trimmers, however, have been using specialized software to record disease as they trim. This software can either be installed on a local computer, or on robust rubber mounted tablets that can withstand the harsh environment of the dairy farm. When trimmers are taking care of a cow, they can indicate in the software what the problem is, where it is located and which treatment they will apply. This information is then available for reference next time the trimmer trims the cow, but can also be used for herd-level analyses. For example, if an excessive amount of trouble occurs on the same claw of the same hoof for different cows, this can imply that there is a problem regarding turning somewhere in the unit.

Videos & case studies
  • 4D4F video on lameness detection: Jacqui Browne, from Pomeroy Farm in Trowbridge (UK), explain us how they apply sensor technology to produce lameness alert lists and further investigation with thermal imagery.
Additional information