Effect of impaired mobility at parturition on milk yield, body condition, feed efficiency and the cost of milk production

18 Jun 2021


By Hayley Marshall 

Take home message: Cows with impaired mobility at parturition, had greater milk and component yields, parity, and dry matter intake. Feed efficiency, however, was not impacted. Cows with suboptimal mobility remained lame throughout the study, increasing the ethical and financial cost of milk production and impacting consumer perception.  

Lameness is of great concern within the dairy industry, causing pain and distress. In addition to impaired animal welfare, lameness has an economic impact, associated with milk loss, increased culling rates, reduced fertility, and increased veterinary bills. The prevalence of lameness in the United Kingdom remains high, with increased risk associated with many variables. This study aimed to assess the prevalence and impact of mobility at parturition on milk yield, body condition, feed efficiency and cost of milk production.

Forty-three Holstein-Friesian dairy cattle were randomly selected from the University of Nottingham dairy herd. All cows were at or close to parturition (0 to 7 d pp) and allocated into two groups, dependant on their mobility score. One group (n=15) represented those with optimal mobility (score 0), and the second group (n=28) contained individuals with a suboptimal mobility (score ≥1). All cows were housed in the same environment, with ab libitum access to water and fed a partial mixed ration diet, adequate to maintain both maintenance and produce 32L of milk. Cows’ performance data (dry matter intake, milk yield, liveweight, body condition and locomotion) were collected and analysed.

Cows in the suboptimal mobility group continued to have suboptimal mobility throughout the study, at 95% of the time. On average, those in the suboptimal group had greater milk yield, milk fat and energy corrected yield, protein, and lactose. Although there was no difference in the number of days between calving intervals, amongst the two groups, those in the suboptimal group have on average given birth more times in total. Furthermore, cows with a suboptimal mobility had a higher liveweight at parturition compared with cows that had optimal mobility. However, cows with optimal mobility gained more liveweight over the 100 days, despite consuming on average less dry matter intake per day. Dry matter intake per kg of live weight and the energy corrected milk yield, milk protein and milk solids produced per kg of dry matter intake did not differ between the two groups. Body condition score was equally matched at day 0 pp, however, by day 100 pp those in the optimal mobility group had a higher body condition score. This is thought to be due to older cows often having an increased amount of claw horn damage, lower body condition score and overall lower digital cushion thickness, as there is greater demand on the body from greater milk yields.

This study was carried out by Helen Jennings while studying for her BSc (Hons) in Animal Science (1st Class) at the University of Nottingham. Her work has been highly commended in the 2020 BSAS Undergraduate Thesis of the Year Awards. Helen has recently joined Genus RMS as a technician working with a variety of dairy farms in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Helens long term aspiration is to have a career as a dairy consultant.

Hayley Marshall, University of Nottingham PhD Student

Hayley has been a member of BSAS Early Career Council since 2019 and is in the final stages of her PhD at the University of Nottingham, where she is studying the efficacy of different footbathing protocols for the control of lameness in sheep.