Cow comfort: 3) Locomotion score

Locomotion scoring is a relatively quick and simple qualitative assessment of the ability of cows to walk normally. If locomotion score is collected regularly (e.g. monthly), it can be used to identify specific cows at risk of becoming clinically lame which should be examined to determine the cause of their lameness.

What is it?

Locomotion score is a qualitative index of a cow’s ability to walk normally. It is visually scored on a scale of 1.0 to 5.0, where a score of 1.0 reflects a cow that walks normally and a score of 5.0 reflects a cow that is three-legged lame. A locomotion score can be visually assessed in only a few seconds per cow. Generally, locomotion scores of 2.0 and 3.0 are considered to represent subclinically lame cows, while locomotion scores of 4.0 and 5.0 represent cows that are clinically lame. A locomotion score higher than 1.0 does not indicate why a cow’s gait is affected; it merely shows that she has some degree of gait abnormality (i.e. lameness). Scores higher than 1.0 may suggest intervention is advised with individual cows or a group of cows, to determine the cause of the gait irregularity.

Locomotion score chart

1.0 Normal with flat back

Cow stands and walks with a level back. Gait is normal.
2.0 Mildly lame
Cow stands with a level back, but develops an arched back to walk. Normal gait.
3.0 Moderately lame

Arched back is evident while standing and walking. Walks with a short lame stride.
4.0 Lame
Arched back is always evident and gait is one deliberate step at a time. Cow favours one or more legs/hooves.
5.0 Severely lame
A three-legged cow which demonstrates an inability or extreme reluctance to bear weight on one or more limbs/hooves.

Source (adapted from): Steven L. Berry, DVM, MPVM; Univ. of Davis, CA, and Zinpro® Corporation 1997, in J Hulsen, Cow Signals.

What is a good locomotion score profile?

It is realistically impossible to have no lameness in a herd if any cow locomotion scoring over 1.0 is considered to be expressing some degree of lameness. But it is possible to eliminate clinical lameness (locomotion score of 4.0 and 5.0). Research found that this was achieved in a high production group in one commercial herd in California. A reasonable goal might be to have more than 65 percent of the herd scoring 1.0 with less than three percent scoring 4.0. Cows with a locomotion score of 5.0 should be immediately removed to the treatment area, even if it’s just for their own welfare. So how does a cow spontaneously become less lame? The answer is in the nature of the locomotion scoring system. This system does not actually assess lameness in favour of scoring back posture and stride. While these factors are clearly associated with lameness, they do not identify why a cow is lame.

Physical injury, heel warts, sole abscess, a stone in the hoof, even a sore belly (acidosis, displaced abomasum, hardware) will all affect back posture and stride. Some of these conditions correct themselves, so those cows then walk more easily and appear less lame as assessed by locomotion score. But clearly a locomotion score of 3.0 or higher indicates that the cow should be examined to determine the reason for the lameness. If necessary, take action to correct it. Keep in mind that the reason for the high locomotion score may not be found in the legs or hooves.

Conclusions

Locomotion scoring is a relatively quick and simple qualitative assessment of the ability of cows to walk normally. If locomotion score is collected regularly (e.g. monthly), it can be used to identify specific cows at risk of becoming clinically lame which should be examined to determine the cause of their lameness. Group profile locomotion scores can be used to determine expected milk revenue losses in a dairy or a group of cows within a dairy. That estimated loss can be used to determine if general interventions of either a management or nutritional nature are warranted. Finally, regularly collected locomotion score profiles can provide a running index of the extent of lameness and give an index of the impact of interventions designed to alleviate lameness.