Lameness And Dairy Cow Welfare
Of the many welfare issues plaguing cows used for milking on dairy farms, lameness is one of the most prevalent and expensive. The average estimated cost per case is approximately $500. However, placing dairy cow lameness into a context of dollars ignores the very real welfare consequences of the illness. If animal welfare is a true concern for farmers and the public, knowing the more subtle and obvious ways that lameness compromises cow welfare is an essential first step in understanding how to support cows with the illness and minimize the impact of it. In the United Kingdom, the concept of the “Five Freedoms” has become a major guiding framework for the discussion of animal welfare, and as researchers here mention, it offers a useful framework for considering the welfare impact of lameness. The Five Freedoms are: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress.
This review evalutes the diagnosis and treatment of lame dairy cows in the context of the five freedoms, in order to conceive of circumstances under which these animals can “not only survive but also thrive.” The authors note that “opportunities to improve the welfare of lame cows are abundant.” They apply the principles of the five freedoms to lameness in dairy cows and conclude that “the welfare consequences of lameness are diverse and no freedom is left uncompromised.” The main issue is that on dairy farms, humans have “almost complete control” over every aspect of animals’ lives, including food and water and housing conditions. This means it is solely humans’ responsibility to “minimize the pain and debilitating effects of lameness in cattle through early detection, prompt treatment, and providing a comfortable housing environment during the recovery period.” The authors here suggest that farm facilities can be better designed to meet “natural behavioral needs and create environments that prevent lameness.” Although they don’t give a concrete plan, they note that it includes a better understanding of cow behavior to reduce fear and anxiety wherever possible.
Lameness is one of just many welfare problems that can befall cows on dairy farms. For animal advocates, this article provides an holistic way of analyzing a welfare problem and identifying a way towards a solution that is more preventative than reactive.