Lameness is a common issue across beef and dairy herds with up to 35% of cows affected at some point.  Lameness can lead to a loss of production and can have a significant financial impact if not managed appropriately.

Lameness can lead to:

  • Reduced feed intake
  • Reduced milk production in dairy cows or daily live-weight gain in beef cattle
  • Reduced fertility, due to cows not standing or expressing heat behaviour or a delay in cycling post-calving
  • Increased chance of secondary diseases
  • Increased vet bills and labour from treating lame animals
  • Increased risk of culling

What Causes Lameness?

Lameness is most commonly caused by infection or injury but can also be caused through poor management or feeding practices.  Genetics has a part to play with poor feet and leg morphology leading to misshapen hooves that are more prone to injury.  Poorly designed housing or flooring or roadways can also increase the risk of foot injury.

Common Causes

Digital Dermatitis/Mortellaro:

Starts as a red rash around the cleft between the heel and the claws of the foot, this can develop into skin loss and painful scabbing.  Mortellaro is highly contagious once in a herd.  If can be effectively prevented by regular foot-bathing in a copper sulphate solution.

Foot Rot:

Caused by bacteria entering the foot through cracks in the skin, commonly in wet, dirty conditions.  Bacteria cause swelling above the hoof and foul-smelling secretions from the claws.  Foot Rot can be treated with antibiotics.


Bruising to the claw can happen when cow’s hooves are soft (after calving or when outdoors) bad bruising can lead to ulcers where the inflames tissue in the hoof breaks through the horn.

This can be treated by trimming excess horn around the ulcer and applying a shoe to the opposite claw and applying topical antibiotic.

White Line Disease:

Occurs when dirt or stones penetrate the white line of the claw causing pain and possible infection.  It can be treated by paring effected claws to remove and dirt or other foreign objects and allowing any infection to drain out.  Blocks can be applied to the opposite claw to take the weight off the affected area.

Identifying and Managing Lameness

The first step to addressing lameness issues on farm is identify lame cows.  This can be done by mobility scoring to assess how they are walking and moving.  All cows should be assessed regularly and individuals with issues recorded, persistently lame cows should be culled.  Watch cows walking after milking or when herding beef cows, observing on a level, non-slip surface is best.

Lameness can be successfully managed by:

  • Routine hoof trimming once or twice a year
  • Regularly assessing and identifying clinical cases
  • Appropriate treatment of clinically lame cows
  • Maintaining clean, comfortable lying areas and walkways
  • Regular foot-bathing
  • Culling persistently lame cows

For further advice on any of the above, please contact a member of the Moocall team to speak to some of our breeding specialists on +353 1 96 96 038 or email