Lameness among dairy cows housed in hospital pens

Lucas Pantaleon

Lameness is an important problem in dairies around the world and it negatively impacts animal welfare and financial performance of dairy farms. It is speculated that lame cows may heal quicker when housed in a soft floor hospital stall, where competition with other animals for resources is less, and monitoring and treatment is easier.

Thomsen et al. (2020) compared the recovery from lameness of dairy cows housed in a deep-litter straw bedding hospital stall with the recovery of cows housed together in their home pens, with cubicles and slatted or solid concrete floors. Laying down behavior was also investigated in both groups. The investigators hypothesized that hospital pen housed cows would recover faster and lay down for longer.

The researchers enrolled 168 lame dairy cows from Danish 5 herds. Cows were randomly assigned to two groups. The treatment group (72 cows) was housed in a hospital pen and the control group (96 cows) was housed under standard conditions. Cows were scored for lameness weekly until they were no longer lame or until they had been in the trial for 3 weeks. Cows were scored using a 5-point locomotion scoring system, with 1 being normal and 5 severely lame. The latter group was no included in the study.

During the first lameness scoring there were no statistically significantly differences between the treatment and control groups. The overall recovery was significantly different between groups. For cows with locomotion score of 4, 40% of cows housed in the hospital also had a locomotion score 4 at the fourth locomotion scoring, 46% had improved to a score 3, and 14% were no longer lame. On the other hand, cows housed in regular pens, 73% had a locomotion score 4 at the fourth locomotion scoring, 16% had improved to a score 3, and 11% were no longer lame.

Significantly more lame cows improved in their locomotion scores when houses in a hospital pen. Housing lame cows in a hospital pen with a soft surface, easier access to feed and water, smaller group size and less waiting time for milking may be responsible for faster lameness healing. In the future, studies should look into which one of the aforementioned factors or which combination has a greater impact on improving the recovery of lame dairy cows.

Based on the study described here, lame cows should be placed in hospital pens for a quicker recovery. However, the combination of limited availability of hospital pens and high prevalence of lameness in many dairy herds may pose practical limitations for housing every lame cow in a hospital pen.

Reference

Thomsen, P.T., Fogsgaard, K.K., Jensen, M.B., Raundal, P., Herskin, M.S. 2019. Better recovery from lameness among dairy cows housed in hospital pens. Journal of dairy science. 102: 11291-11297.

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