Lameness in dairy cows is a major problem in dairy herds worldwide and is associated with reduced animal welfare, because it can be difficult for lame cows to compete with other cows in the herd for access to feed, water and lying places, according to an announcement from Aarhus University in Denmark.
“Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that lame cows may benefit from housing in a hospital pen. Here, the flooring is typically softer, and there are fewer cows and less competition for resources,” said senior scientist Peter Thomsen, who has been involved in the project.
Together with the Danish research institute SEGES, the Aarhus researchers decided to study the effect of housing lame cows in hospital pens. During the project, they studied whether lame cows housed in deep-bedded hospital pens recovered better than dairy cows kept together with the rest of the lactating cows in the “standard” barn.
The study included 168 lame dairy cows from five different herds, the researchers said. Each herd was visited once weekly, and lame cows (with a locomotion score of three or four on a five-point scale) were examined in a hoof-trimming chute, with hooves trimmed when needed, and were randomly allocated to one of two treatments:
1. A treatment group housed in a hospital pen, or
2. A control group in standard housing together with the other lactating cows in the herd.
Weekly locomotion scoring
Cows were given a locomotion score every week until they were no longer lame or until they had been included in the study for three weeks, Aarhus said. Based on these locomotion scores, the cows were grouped as follows in order to describe the development of lameness over time:
- Cows recovering from lameness;
- Cows with an improved locomotion score but without a complete recovery;
- Cows with an unchanged locomotion score, or
- Cows with a worsened locomotion score.
Positive effect of hospital pens
Overall, Aarhus said the results showed a significant difference between the two groups: Housing in hospital pens had a positive effect on recovery from lameness.
Among cows receiving a locomotion score of four at the beginning of the study, 73% of the control cows (those still with the herd) had a locomotion score of four still after three weeks. For cows in hospital pens, the corresponding proportion was only 40%.
Furthermore, the researchers noted that 46% of the cows in hospital pens experienced an improvement in their locomotion score, compared to only 16% in the control group. Additionally, 14% of the cows in hospital pens and 11% of the control cows recovered completely from lameness during the study period.
“Our results show that lame dairy cows benefit from a stay in a hospital pen. Typically, farmers only house severely lame cows in hospital pens. However, our results indicate that less severely lame cows may also benefit from a stay in a hospital pen,” Thomsen said.
The results have been published in the Journal of Dairy Science.