Dairy Australia - Dairy information for Australian Dairy Farmers and the industry

Primary content

Preventing symptoms of lameness in your dairy herd.

Preventing lameness

The majority of lameness conditions are preventable. By having good stockmanship, maintaining good laneways and having a good nutrition plan you can significantly reduce your lameness. In this section you will find videos on how to handle stock in a low stress manner as well as learn about the building blocks of good laneways.

Cow behaviour and stock handling

Understanding cow behaviour

Lameness is commonly the result of a negative alteration in the way cows walk or interact with the herd. In order to prevent lameness, it is critical to first discuss normal cow behaviour.
  • Cows need to see where their feet are placed.
  • Subordinate cows will not pass dominant cows. 
  • Dominant cows will walk throughout the herd, not always at the front.
  • Milking order is different to walking order.
  • Cows need space in the yard.
  • Under pressure, dominant cows push forward using back feet. Lower dominance cows reverse, using front feet to brace and push.
  • Cows are creatures of habit.

Good stockmanship

Good stockmanship is another way to help prevent lameness in your cows. Don't pressure cows on the laneway with people, vehicles or dogs.

  • Ensure enough cow space in the yard.
  • Use the backing gate correctly.
  • Movement no longer than 5 seconds duration.
  • Delay first movement until at least 2 rows/platforms are milked.
  • No heads up!
  • Use a consistent routine for handling cows.

Watch this video on cow behaviour and stockhandling:

Infrastructure, laneway and milk parlour design


The construction of your farm infrastructure is a really important factor in minimising the risk of lameness. Any surface that your herd come into contact with could be a potential risk, so ensuring the best conditions possible is one of the most significant ways to help prevent lameness. Our the complete guide to preventing and managing lameness (PDF) gives detailed instructions on building farm infrastructure correctly to minimise lameness.


When constructing laneways on your farm, remember that these areas are high-traffic and transitional areas. Surfaces can easily become uneven or worn over time, with material being carried along from one area to another. Stones, potholes or damp patches can all have adverse affects on hoof condition.

Watch this video on laneway design to find out the best ways to minimise lameness:


Yard and milking parlour

The most important factor in yard and milking parlour design is understanding the movement of the herd through these areas. If the movement of the herd is restricted or uncomfortable at any point, the cows can become unsettled, and the potential for injury increases.

Watch this video on yard and milking parlour design:

Minimising lameness

 Cows Bunched Heads Up 

Cows bunched, heads up

Heads up suggests that the whole herd is too tightly packed.

This will result in foot damage from twisting and turning and standing on gravel. 

 Cows Spread Out Heads Down 

Cows spread out, heads down

Cows need space in the yard. This allows a cow room to manoeuvre gently forward and feel and look for a safe place to stand. 

For optimum space, allow at least 1.8-2mper cow for Freisans and 1.3m2 for Jerseys.

 Cows Pushing At An Angle With Their Feet 

Cows pushing at an angle with their feet

Cows pushing at an angle with their feet are avoiding pressure from the backing gate or top-gate.

Pushing at an angle like this will damage the white line of the foot. 

 Cows Standing Upright 

Cows standing upright

When cows are relaxed in the yard, feet are at a normal angle to the yard surface and have low risk of being damaged. 

 Rocks and Gravel On Concrete 

Rocks and gravel on concrete

Rocks and gravel on concrete damage and penetrate the sole. They are painful to walk on. This results in poor cow flow into the shed. 

 Clean Concrete 

Clean concrete

Clean concrete is less damaging to a cow's foot.

Use a nib wall or curb at the junction between gravel and the concrete to prevent gravel being brought onto the yard surface. 

 Cows Bunched Up On Laneway 

Cows bunched up on a laneway

This is caused by herding pressure from behind.

Bunching often happens at congestion points in the laneway.

The result is poor foot placement and damage to the sole from laneway material. 

 Cows Spread Out on Laneway 

Cows spread out on a laneway

If cows are spread out and able to drift at their own pace, foot placement is good and wearing of the sole is minimal. 

Building stronger hooves

Supplements can help in developing strong, healthy hooves.

The trace minerals copper, selenium, zinc and sulphur are important in the formation of the hoof wall and biotin helps maintain the integrity of the hoof wall. Supplements need to be in the diet for at least 4 months to have an effect.

Zinc is important in claw horn formation and zinc deficiency has been implicated in lameness in dairy cattle. Zinc is required at 40-50mg per kg of dry matter. Supplementation with a zinc derivative, such as zinc methionate, has been demonstrated to reduce the incidence of hoof abnormalities.

Copper is required at a level of 10mg per kg of dry matter in the diet of cattle, assuming no interference in uptake of copper.

Biotin contributes to the formation of the hoof wall. Adding biotin to the diet, (20mg per cow per day) over a period of 3-4 months, has been shown to improve hoof hardness.

Contact your vet or nutritionist for further advice on supplements.

Calving and mating care

The fat pad in the cow's hoof acts as a shock absorber. Cows with low body condition will have a thinner cushion which is associated with sole ulcers and White Line Disease, especially in heifers. Cows are most likely to lose condition between calving and mating as they adjust to new diets and the demands of lactation.

Hoof trimming

Hoof trimming can be an important strategy to improve claw shape and prevent recurrence of lameness.

The shape of the hoof is a balance between growth and wear. Most cows' hooves grow at approximately 5mm per month. If the wear is less than the growth, overgrowth of the horn leads to incorrect weight bearing. The way in which cows' feet wear depends on their walking surfaces. Hard surfaces such as some laneways and yards can be abrasive and cause excessive wear.

Commonly, the toe wears slower than the heel. The result of this is a cow with longer toes and shallow heels, lowering the hoof angle and putting more pressure on the bottom of the rear pedal bone. Here, lameness is caused by unbalanced weight bearing leading to more pressure being applied.

What are the risks?

Specialised training is required for functional foot trimming. Inadequately trained people can damage a cow's foot and leave her lame. Common mistakes are:
  • trimming the toe too short and permanently damaging the horn-growing cells
  • removing wall horn, or too much tissue from the inside (medial) heel, causing unstable weight bearing which leads to lameness.

If cows become lame after trimming, promptly:

  • assess the cows, and
  • have your trimming methods reviewed by skilled practitioners.

Limit the spread of infection

It is also important that the foot trimmer follows hygienic procedures in order to limit the spread of infectious lameness conditions, such as digital dermatitis, between cows in the herd or between herds.

Do you want more information or have questions about our lameness advice? Come along to a Healthy Hooves workshop for interactive insight and opportunities to discuss with other farmers.

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.