Sept. 21 2016 08:00 AM

Treatment is just part of the expense when it comes to hoof health issues.

Few things in life are free. Unfortunately for dairy farmers, even incidences of unwanted disease, like lameness, come with a price.

The most obvious costs of lameness are associated with treatment. Hoof trimming, antibiotics, bandages, and blocks are just some of the expenditures involved in treating a lame cow.

The economic impact of lameness goes beyond treatment, though. Additional costs of lameness evaluated in past research were highlighted in a University of Wisconsin-Extension factsheet titled “Economics of Dairy Cattle Hoof Health.”

Reduced milk yield: Much research has shown that lameness impacts milk production. One study found that severe lameness within the first month of lactation could reduce 305-day milk yield by 772 pounds. A different study estimated losses to be between 692 and 935 pounds of milk over a lactation.

Some lesions impact milk yield more than others. Sole ulcers, for example, cause an estimated 1,266 pounds reduction in milk. At $15.60 per hundredweight milk, that equates to a $198 loss in milk profits per case.

Lowered fertility and genetics: Cows that are lame may not be cycling properly, therefore not getting pregnant. One study found fertility and reproduction to be the most costly loss caused by lameness, representing 39 percent of total lameness costs.

Lame cows that get culled prematurely also represent a loss of genetic potential for the herd.

Added labor: Cases of lameness can mean more work for employees, herdsmen, hoof trimmers, and veterinarians. Time spent treating lame cows adds expense.

Elevated risk of culling: The decision to cull a cow often depends on several factors, but lameness could compound other issues or escalate a cow’s departure from the herd. Cows with sole ulcer lesions have been found to be at the highest risk for culling.

Scientific literature states that lameness can cost a farm $90 to $300 per case. Using the lowest end of that estimate ($90), a 300-cow herd with a 20 percent incidence rate would lose more than $5,400. With lowered profits at stake, farms would be wise to pursue ways to reduce lameness. University of Wisconsin-Extension encourages farms to lower the rate of lameness by improving cow comfort, avoiding overcrowding, providing proper ventilation, and developing a monitoring and treatment system.

Abby Bauer
The author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master’s degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor’s from University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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