Published 23 June 14

The cleanliness of a cow’s coat is an important indicator of cow comfort. In general, cows, given the choice, will choose to lie in clean, dry areas, and dirt on a cow’s coat can have various causes.

Excessive layers of dried dirt provide optimal conditions for ectoparasites and can irritate the skin, increase cold stress and the risk of disease, and may cause issues at or prior to slaughter. This layering of dried dirt indicates a long-term build-up and highlights weaknesses in the cleaning routine of the alleys and/or cubicles or lack of grooming facilities.

A high level of dirtiness on the legs and flank is associated with increased risk of lameness, digital dermatitis, interdigital dermatitis, slurry heal and mastitis. It can also obscure skin damage and foot lesions preventing early detection and increasing recovery times. Dirtiness can be caused by poor slurry systems, lack of bedding, overstocking, or poached paddocks.

A high level of dirtiness on the udder is strongly associated with the development of mastitis, increases pre-milking cleaning (which adds to the milking routine) and increases the risk of poor milk quality. Frequent and strategic cleaning of the alleys and cubicles will reduce the amount of manure on cows and reduce the amount of manure tracked into the cubicle.


A scoring scheme has been developed to aid producers in assessing the levels of  cleanliness within the herd. Running on a 0 -2 scale, three different body parts are scored as to the level of cleanliness.

AHDB Dairy have produced resources for use on farm when assessing the herd, along with details on factors which can impact the levels seen.