New Industry Standard for Mobility Scoring from DairyCo

Published 1 November 08

New industry standard for mobility scoring from DairyCo

Poor mobility in dairy cows can cost farmers an average of £180 per case through lost milk sales, treatments and productivity. With an estimated 25% of the national herd lame at various levels at any one time, this represents a huge drain on industry resources.

As well as the cost of poor mobility, the need for a single mobility scoring system has also become clear following the inclusion of mobility scoring initiatives in milk supply contracts. One system would ensure clarity in application and like for like analysis.

To help farmers address these concerns DairyCo has launched a new mobility score aiming to become the industry standard for measuring lameness in dairy herds.

Extensively tested by vets, farmers and researchers, the new score replaces over 16 commonly used assessment methods - all with different measurement criteria and terminology. The DairyCo score is the result of 18 months research, consultation and discussion with all sectors of industry including farmers, vets, retailers and animal health and welfare groups.

Elizabeth Berry, research and development manager 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.

"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."

The new method is based on a four point score ranging from 0 - 3.  A cow scoring 0, the best possible score, will have good mobility and walk with even weight bearing and rhythm on all four feet, with 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 with an arched back.

Vet and research fellow, Dr Nick Bell from Bristol University has worked closely with DairyCo on the project, and says that: "By simplifying the scoring system, farmers can now conduct mobility scoring on farm without the need for professional help."

The new system is easy to apply and for farmers to reap the benefits needs to be carried out regularly. Benefits include:

• Early detection of any mobility problems results in prompt identification and management
• Poor mobility trends can be monitored and causes identified
• Provision of figures for benchmarking performance
• General foot health awareness is increased
• Motivates farm staff to improve herd mobility

Dr Bell advises: "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, non-slip surface."

"Critically if a farmer doesn't score his cows regularly, the reality is that he may have a lot of cows in score two 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."

Jonathan Statham of Bishopton vets near Ripon says that the move addresses a long standing problem in the dairy industry, and suggests there are three key advantages to the development of an industry wide mobility score.  

"Firstly, there are advantages for milk production," he explains. "Cows which are lame eat less and therefore produce less milk.  So, by reducing lameness, farmers may see an increase in their milk production.  Additionally, by aiding earlier detection of lameness farmers may be able to treat lame cows sooner.  This may result in more cows fully cured, or at least reduce losses from cows which are too lame to go into the food chain.
"Secondly, lameness in cows leads to poor fertility and this is a huge issue for the British dairy industry.  When a cow is lame, expression of heat is often reduced and heat detection is therefore more difficult.  Cows are unable to demonstrate mounting behaviour if they are lame.
"If 25% of the UK dairy herd is lame at any one time this has a huge impact on fertility, and is a massive concern for the industry."
Thirdly says Mr Statham, the score could help to support consumer demands: "Animal health and welfare is a concern for many of today's consumers.  If we want the UK dairy industry to be the best in the world, then we need to protect the perception of health and welfare in dairy cows.  Happy and healthy cows improve the marketability of all milk products.
"Finally," he says, "the whole process of mobility scoring gives farmers a positive plan of action.  Sometimes when you see a cow every day it's hard to spot signs of lameness.  However, by definitely scoring a cow say once a month, it gives farmers something tangible to measure against in order to make changes as and when required."

A pictorial scoring guide with descriptors and action points and scoring sheets are available from the DairyCo publications department by emailing or calling 02476 478695. Materials are also available to download from this website (see links on right).

Farmers interested in learning more can attend any of the discussion groups run by DairyCo extension officers around the country.