News & Advice

What does Body Condition Score have to do with lameness?

Mar 5, 2024 | Body condition score, Dairy, Lameness

Hanneke Officer, Veterinarian and Health Hoof Advisor, Anexa Vet Services

As we all know, mature cows need to calve in body condition score 5 and first and second calvers in body condition score 5.5. These targets are based on the production and reproductive benefits of these calving body condition scores – cows in their last month of gestation will not gain body condition because of the energy requirements of the growing calf.

Less widely known is cows with lower body condition score have a higher risk of becoming lame, due to a thinner digital cushion.


What does body condition score have to do with lameness?

One of the major structures in the hoof is the digital cushion. It acts like a shock absorber/weight distributor for the hoof – its purpose is to dissipate force and transfer the load to the wall of the claw. It is essentially made up of fat.

When body condition decreases, fat is lost and the size of the digital cushion decreases, reducing its functionality and predisposing to lameness.

The lame cows then eat less, further reducing their body condition score – creating a vicious circle. Chicken or egg? Studies have shown that a reduction in body condition score precedes lameness. Therefore, ensuring that cows are at the right body condition score helps to reduce the incidence of lameness.

anatomy of a hoof

Body condition influences the fat content of this cushion. When body condition decreases, so does the size of the digital cushion, reducing its functionality and predisposing it to lameness.  (Image from DairyNZ’s Preventing and Managing Lameness Guide.)


What can we do in late lactation to reduce the risk of lameness?


1. Find the balance between milk production and managing a cow’s body condition

Minimise the risk of lameness, reduced milk production after calving and poor reproduction by working with your vet to individually body condition score cows and create a dry-off plan to suit your feed availability.

Typically, cows struggle to gain significant condition while they are still milking. Choosing the correct dry-off date based on a cow’s individual condition score and her expected calving date allows you to achieve the best compromise between milk production and body condition.

Of course, body condition scoring isn’t only about when to dry off – we also need to manage each cow appropriately through the dry period.

A cow’s condition score, her expected calving date, and her age are the 3 main cow-level variables that determine how much she needs to be fed in the winter. Without the individual body condition scores you may have a cow in the wrong mob wasting feed on a cow that doesn’t need it.


2. Give the cow a stable start – Identify and trim overgrown hooves

As the cow gets heavier, overgrown hooves can cause discomfort and lead to lameness problems including:

  • Locomotion restrictions. A shortened stride can develop where the back claw falls short of the front claw placement.
  • A change in speed or rhythm. Is an early indication of lameness – when a cow slows down and ends up further back in the herd.
  • Weight bearing changes. Long toes can lead to ‘sinking’ into the claw leading to tendon extension.

We have trained technicians that can individually Hoof Check your cows to identify those in need of trimming. Hoof trimming can then prevent lameness by resetting the hoof shape for improved mobility & reduced lameness risk.

  • Evenly distribute the weight
  • Comfortable standing & better stability
  • Improved cow flow


For further information regarding managing your herd’s body condition and lameness, talk to your vet or contact us through our website  to book your herd’s Hoof Check.


Resources you may find helpful:

Body Condition Scoring Cows – why, when, where & how to make it really count

It’s not too early to start thinking about drying off your lighter cows


Act now to prevent lameness

Hoof trimming




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