Assessing The Cost Of Lameness

By D. J. Tomlinson, Ph.D.,

M. T. Socha, Ph.D.,

Research Nutritionists,

Zinpro Performance Minerals® and

Jackie Tucker Chemuniqué International

Lameness is a continuous challenge for dairies in South Africa. Whether it is caused by physical injury, hoof disease or dietary deficiencies, it results in increased veterinary costs, increased culling, decreased milk yield and ultimately decreased profitability.

It is important that action is taken to assess and prevent lameness in your herd. The first step is to determine the extent of the problem and assess what it is costing the dairy, and the second is to determine how to prevent/treat the problem.

Locomotion scoring is a tool that can be used to first determine the extent of the lameness problem and its cost. This method will then provide you the stimulus to determine if the problem is serious enough to justify intervention and treatment. Locomotion scoring is a relatively quick and simple assessment of the ability of cows to walk normally. It seems simple but is very insightful and powerful.

Locomotion scoring can also be used to select cows for individual hoof examination/trimming and to then assess the reason for early signs of lameness before the cows become clinically lame. In work completed on a commercial dairy in California, cows with a locomotion score of 3 were four times more likely to score a 4 or 5 (clinically lame) one month later (with no intervention) than cows score 2.

Tracking average and distribution of locomotion scores on a regular basis provides an index of the extent of lameness in the herd. This will provide criteria to determine when lameness is more prevalent, therefore when to intervene and treat the herd.

The question is; how much does lameness cost the dairy producer due to lost milk and revenue? Based on extensive research (Peter Robinson, UC Davis), milk losses can be estimated based on the locomotion score profile of any group of cows.

It is estimated that the milk production losses for cows are as follows (Peter Robinson, UC Davis):

Locomotion score 2: 2%

Locomotion score 3: 4.1%

Locomotion score 4: 9.3%

Locomotion score 5: 15.2%

However, only taking lost revenue due to milk loss into account is underestimating the true cost of lameness to a dairy as decreased fertility due to lameness also contributes to reduced profitability. Dr Chuck Guard from Cornell University also estimates the losses due to lameness (per case) in his Lameness Cost-Guard: 2% of cases die, 20% are culled, 340kg of milk is lost, 28 extra days open, ±R100 treatment cost as well as 1 hour additional labour.

The example (Figure 1) shows the impact of one set of circumstances. These numbers can be used to assess the relative milk loss from lameness and to therefore decide whether intervention would be cost-effective. The locomotion score profile of the example herd would not be considered representative of a herd with a serious lameness problem (7% clinically lame), yet the milk revenue loss is just over R6000/month.

This cost of lameness should justify intervention, i.e. calling on the hoof trimmer to regularly trim cows hooves or consider management, environment or nutritional changes (specifically in score 3 cows). Steven Berry from UC Davis recommends working towards a locomotion score profile goal (Figure 2). All lameness is not nutritionally related and thus collection and evaluation of accurate claw lesion records, in addition to locomotion scoring is essential to making the right corrective management decisions.

Figure 1. Predicted milk revenue losses due to a particular locomotion score profile (Adapted from P.H. Robinson, UC Davis)

Lost Revenue Due to Lameness


Number of Cows with the following Locomotion Score:

Standing and Walking, Flat Back


Standing, Flat Back, Walking, Arched Back


Standing and Walking, Arched Back


Standing and Walking, Arched Back, One or More Limbs Favoured


Standing and Walking, Arched Back, No Weight Bore on a Limb


Total Number of Cows Scored (Calculated):


Milk price


Current milk production level


Herd/group size


Average locomotion score


Average daily milk loss





Lost revenue due to reduced milk yield



rand year/group




1. Economics adapted from P.H. Robinson, Ph.D., Dept. of Animal Science, UC Davis

2. Locomotion scoring adapted from Sprecher et al., 1997, Theriogenology 47:1178-1187

3. Estimated milk production losses for cows with the following locomotion scores:

Locomotion score 2: 2.0%

Locomotion score 3: 4.1%

Locomotion score 4: 9.3%

Locomotion score 5: 15.2%

4. Lost revenue underestimated as it does not account for lost income due to decreased fertility as the result of lameness. See Lameness Cost – Guard for a more complete list of costs associated with lameness.

Figure 2. Locomotion score goals, % of cows (Steven Berry, DVM, UC Davis)

Locomotion Score Goals, % of Cows

Standing and Walking, Flat Back


Standing, Flat Back, Walking, Arched Back


Standing and Walking, Arched Back


Standing and Walking, Arched Back, One or More Limbs Favoured


Standing and Walking, Arched Back, No Weight Bore on a Limb



Zinpro and Chemuniqué are committed to improving your cow’s hoof health. For us, feet come first!

Talk to your nutritionist, feed sales representative or consultant about the Zinpro’s lameness assessment and prevention program, FirstStep®, as well as the Zinpro Performance Minerals® to ensure strong healthy feet.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

  • Secured Payments
  • Mastercard
  • Visa
  • instant-eft
  • Payfast