Source: National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals – Dairy Cattle, Section 3.5

Lameness among dairy cows is widely recognized as one of the most serious (and costly) animal welfare issues affecting dairy cattle (40). Lameness results in decreased mobility, reduced Dry Matter Intake (DMI), decreased production, impaired reproduction, debilitated cows and early culling. Some causes of lameness are related to genetics and infectious disease but the majority of problems are related to nutrition and the environment that the cow lives in. Prompt recognition, diagnosis and early treatment minimize animal welfare concerns and allow the cow to produce to her potential. The majority of cases of lameness in dairy cows involve lesions of the claw.

Risk factors include:

  • high-grain rations causing rumen acidosis
  • lack of effective fiber in the ration
  • standing on concrete, especially wet and rough
  • infrequent hoof trimming
  • uncomfortable, poorly designed stalls
  • physical hazards
  • contagious diseases such as digital dermatitis
  • unsanitary conditions
  • poor management of transition cows
  • unbalanced genetic selection (corkscrew claw).


Lame cows must be diagnosed early and either treated, culled or euthanized. See Appendix F & G for more details.


  1. use Appendix F – Gait Scoring System for Dairy Cows to assess lameness
  2. routinely observe cows for lameness and aim for prevalence of:
    • <10% for obvious or severe lameness (e.g., Level 3 or 4 – Gait Scoring System) or,
    • <10% for sole ulcers and <15% for digital dermatitis (40)
  3. ensure alleyways are cleaned daily
  4. ensure stalls are comfortable and that cows are lying in the stalls
  5. minimize exposure to bare concrete floors
  6. routinely trim the hooves on all cows as needed (e.g., twice per year)
  7. balance the ration to prevent sub-clinical rumen acidosis
  8. avoid feeding large amounts of concentrate in a single feeding
  9. routinely use a foot bath and change routinely to maintain effectiveness (at least once daily).