Lameness: the painful life of an average dairy cow | Viva!

Lameness: the painful life of an average dairy cow

Lameness causes “considerable pain and distress to the cow” (Farm Animal Welfare Council, 2009), and about one tenth of cows are culled because of it. Watch any herd of dairy cows and you’ll usually see some hobbling in agony. The average number of lame cows in a herd is almost one in five, although on some farms it is as high as half (Farm Animal Welfare Council, 2009). Many are simply left in pain to continue producing milk. Four fifths of lameness cases are due to foot problems such as laminitis while the rest are largely due to leg problems caused by injury during birthing or by badly designed cubicles in which they spend at least six months of their lives. These cubicles are often too small, forcing a cow to stand with her hind legs in the slurry passage and unable to lie down comfortably. Laminitis is acute or chronic inflammation of soft foot tissue which “results in great pain to the animal” (Defra, 2005). Laminitis is largely caused by poor winter feed diet that is too high in protein and wet silage, both of which can form toxins in the cow. They travel in the bloodstream to the sensitive tissue of the growing hoof, which is well endowed with blood vessels, where they cause inflammation. Blood flow to the foot is then restricted, making the poor animal prone to ulcers and painful bacterial infections. The truth about the painful life of an average dairy cow in Britain should shock you.