Nearly a year ago DairyCo launched a ground breaking cattle mobility score with the aim of it becoming the industry standard for measuring lameness and in dairy herds. The scoring system, which was developed to be simple enough to use on farm every month, enables producers and their staff to pick up the early signs of lameness before they develop into serious problems.
Vet and research fellow Dr Nick Bell from Bristol university, who was heavily involved in the development of the score and has been involved in rolling it out to the industry, talks about the progress since the launch.
"The launch last year of the DairyCo mobility score has been a tremendous move because it's standardised our approach to scoring lameness which is fundamentally important with a topic that can be open to subjectivity. It has helped clarify the confusion between locomotion scoring used as a breeding tool and mobility score which is used as a tool for managing the cow." says Dr Bell.
"Since it's launch there has been a series of really well supported ADAS mobility score workshops held nationally. It was interesting that many of the producers who attended the events already scored their cattle using different systems but were looking for a national system to apply on their units. As well as getting some great practical tips from those who attended we were impressed at the consistency with which people were spotting lameness within their herds," he says.
"There have also been a series of other workshops and training events for producers, consultants and advisors on the practicalities of using the mobility scoring system. It's encouraging to see the high degree of repeatability with the training materials that have been developed to accompany the score and thses can be down loaded from the DairyCo website. It's great that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet!
Dr Bell continues; "There are a number of research groups across the country using the DairyCo mobility score and putting figure to the economic impact of animals within each score. We have are involved in an intervention study focusing on the response to the treatment of score 2 cows. Do these cows benefit from treatment?
"It's early days yet but it is already very clear that there is a better response to treatment from cows that have recently moved into score 2 versus cows with chronic lameness that are identified for treated. One of the striking things was the number of repeat treatments needed by some of these chronic cases, some requiring as many as seven repeat treatments, compared to the small percentage of cows caught early that needing repeat treatments.
"It has been a challenge to get people to make that move from talking about locomotion scoring, which we really feel should only be reserved as a HUK breeding tool," says Dr Bell. "When it comes to a farmer management tool that can be used to identify cows that are likely to benefit from treatment, it is much better to talk about mobility scoring.
"After all we are scoring cows on their ability to move around the farm, which is crucially important for the cows performance and health and welfare within that herd. Cows are doing the equivalent of running a marathon a day and so they need to be fit on their feet to compete. By using the mobility score we can proactively manage foot health for optimal performance." he concludes.
Dairy producer Andrew Mycock's milks 315, high yielding, year round calving cows at his farm near Buxton in Derbyshire. Last November his herdsman, Gregg Bird, attended a DairyCo meeting on mobility scoring at Sutton Bonnington, University of Nottingham.
"We use a foot trimmer every six weeks, who looks at all late lactation cows before they are dried off and every cow three to four months after they've calved. We picked up any obviously lame cows feet in-between his visits and I suppose I'd say we were reasonably on top of our lameness problem. But Gregg going to the mobility scoring event and his subsequent monthly mobility scoring of the herd has opened our eyes to the benefits of identifying cases early and treating them quickly.
"By mobility scoring every month I'm the one that is consistently seeing the cows move and picking up the little things," explains herd manager Gregg Bird. "I'm picking up cows who's mobility has changed from last months' score before they develop into full blown lameness cases and cost us more money.
"Lameness has a knock on effect in this herd, as in any other, on milk production and fertility. If the cow can't walk properly she can't perform properly," he says. "And crucially we can't ignore the public perception and concern about lameness within the British dairy herd.
"You'll always have cows going lame but with mobility scoring we can keep cases to an absolute minimum and for many cases we can pick up the early warning signals before they develop into full blown lameness," Gregg Bird concludes.
Andrew Mycock continues, "Mobility scoring is also good for picking up lameness trends within the herd. For example it highlighted to us that there was more lameness amongst our cattle that go outside then those that are kept in-doors all the time. Information like this can help us target the causes of lameness within the herd.
"Mobility scoring is a great motivational tool for all the staff on the farm. We have the correct figures about our lameness situation every month and can plot them against our targets," he says. "Last month 75% of our herd scored 0 or 1 but we are all working towards over 80% of the herd being in this category!"