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Identifying symptoms of cows with unusual gait, stiff movements or tender feet.

Identifying lameness

Before identifying lameness in your herd, it's important to know what a healthy hoof looks like.

What does a healthy hoof look like?

Healthy hoof side view
Coronary band
Joins the hoof and the skin. The pale, hairless band. 

Grows from the coronary band downward at a rate of approximately 5mm per month. Made of tough horn. 

Pedal bone or distal phalanx
Connects with other bones in the hoof to give the hoof flexibility. Tendons allow the bone to move forwards and backwards in normal movement. Protected by the digital cushion and corium.

Grows down directly from beneath the pedal bone. This horn is softer than the wall horn. The sole is joined to the wall by the white line.

Merges with the inside and outside wall and the sole continuous with the coronary band. A soft, rubbery part of the hoof.

Digital cushion
Acts as a shock absorber, bearing the weight of the cow as she steps onto her foot.

Coffin or distal interphalangeal joint
Allows the hoof to flex. Prone to injury involving the attachment of the deep flexor tendon to the pedal bone. The tendon can separate and the toe of the claw will turn up.

Supports the pedal bone within the hoof wall.
Health hoof bottom view

Heel bulb
Merges with the inside and outside wall and the sole. A soft, rubbery part of the hoof continuous with the coronary bulb.

Inner claw (medial)
Controls direction and carries more weight than the outer claw in front hooves. In the front hooves the inner claw is slightly larger.

Outer claw (lateral)
Controls direction and carries more weight than the inner claw in rear hooves. In the hind hooves the outer claw is slightly larger.

Interdigital space
The space between the inner and outer claws. This space can become impacted with debris, which can lead to damaged skin.

Coronary band or coronet
A pale, hairless band at the junction of hoof and skin. Area at the top of the hoof from where the hoof wall is produced.

Wall - axial or centre, and abaxial or outside
Grows downward from the coronary band approximately 5mm per month. Made of tough horn.

White line
Junction where sole meets hoof wall. Runs from the bulb of the heel to the toe and then back along the first third of the inside wall. Softer than the wall and sole. It is a point of weakness and often the site for wedged stones and entry of infection. 

Sole horn is softer than the wall horn.

How to identify lameness

Examining a lame cow
8-point dairy cow hoof examination

Watch this video on examining the lame cow:

Watch this video to learn about the indicators of lameness:

If you're finding it difficult to examine your herd for lameness, come along to one of our Healthy Hooves workshops to learn more about the process in a practical environment.

Lameness scoring

A lameness scoring scale has been created by Dairy Australia to help you measure the severity of lameness within your herd. It should be done on a regular basis to identify cows going lame early. Use the Dairy Australia Lameness scoring chart (PDF) to help you measure and identify the severity of lameness in your herd.

How and when to lameness score
  • Scoring should occur at least once a month.
  • It should be done at a time when the whole herd can be assessed. Ideally this can be done as the cows are walking out of the dairy after milking.
  • Score cows on an even, hard, non-slip surface.Look at the foot placement, arching of the back and bobbing of the head to determine the level of lameness.
  • Record how many cows are score 0 and 1.
  • Any cow that is a score 2 or 3 should be recorded and cut out for treatment as soon as possible.

Benefits of regular scoring

  • Monitors the effectiveness of your lameness prevention plan.
  • Allows prompt detection and treatment of lame cows.
  • Improves cow comfort, herd health and milk production.

Watch this video to learn how to lameness score:

Lameness cost calculator

The cost of lameness to your farm business can be significant, especially around calving times. It's important to understand the economic impact that lameness can have in terms of medical expenses, lost milk production and effect on calving patterns. Use the Lameness cost calculator to assess the effect of lameness on your farm. 

Download our lameness resources to keep or share with your on-farm staff

Would you prefer a hard copy? Order the complete set of lameness guides by completing this online form and they will be sent to you.