Is lameness a welfare problem in dairy farms with automatic milking systems?
Lameness, a disease often observed in loose-housed dairy cattle herds, affects animal welfare in general and reduces cow locomotion. As cow traffic may be affected by restricted locomotion, lameness may be a significant problem in herds with automatic milking systems (AMSs). Between January and August 2002, a field study was conducted to evaluate animal health in eight herds with an AMS. Herd sizes ranged from 60 (n = 5 herds with one automatic milking unit [AMU]) to 120 cows (n = 3 herds with two AMUs). Four visits were made, during which 40–50 cows were randomly assigned for clinical examination of body condition, cleanliness, claw length, disorders of claws and legs, lameness, pressure lesions, and disorders of udder and teats. Lameness was observed in 14% of cows, ranging from 5% to 28% between herds. Approximately 60% of cows had pressure lesions on the hock and 23% of cows had overgrown claws. Preliminary results show that overgrown claws, pressure sores with swellings, early stage of lactation, and high milk yield significantly increased the risk of lameness. Lameness significantly reduced the number of voluntary milkings per day.
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