Hygiene scoring systems

Hygiene scoring systems for dairy cows - where the herd or a representative proportion of the herd is scored on the basis of how much muck and dirt adheres their back legs and udders - can be used to broadly measure the standard of various aspects in the management of dairy cows; most obviously, monitoring how clean cows are being kept by the system in which they are housed, but also measuring nutritional and general health issues, and certain aspects of breeding, such as the number of older cows with a lack of udder suspension.

As cows become dirtier, the incidence of infectious pathogens present on their udder and teat skin increases rapidly. The lactating herd is obviously the main focus of the scoring system, but dry cows, in-calf heifers and youngstock can all be included as part of a holistic approach to mastitis control, particularly as many pathogens can cause mastitis infections in dry cows and heifers that may not be apparent until lactation starts.

Several different systems are used but they share common similarities. Hygiene scoring systems usually score cows on a scale of 1 to 4 (and sometimes 1 to 5) on the udder - the fore and rear udders, the udder floor and teats - and the lower rear legs - from hock to floor, including the hoof. The scoring process can take place at any time of the year, but may be particularly useful during housing or when grazing during particularly wet conditions. A representative sample of the herd should be monitored if the whole herd is deemed too large to be included.

The results can be interpreted on a group basis; a one point rise in average score could indicate an increase in Somatic Cell Count in the order of 50,000 cells/ml. On an individual cow basis, where cows score 3 or 4, further investigation can indicate the reasons why these particular cows are so dirty. Dirtiness may be related to the health of the cow, her nutrition, the particular habits of the cow when lying down or feeding, or housing issues such as poor bedding management or insufficient passageway scraping. 

Routinely clipping cows' tails and udder clipping and singeing are particularly good ways of improving the hygiene standard of the herd. These practices may also help to reduce the potential of mastitis caused by environmental pathogens.

(Link to Hygiene Scoring data capture sheets)