Dairy farmer, hoof trimmer, and veterinarian perceptions of barriers and roles in lameness management.

Discipline: lameness; Keywords: attitude, stakeholder engagement, focus group, cattle welfare, communication

Lameness is the clinical condition of impaired locomotion and is caused by a range of foot and leg problems, the most common of which are hoof lesions caused by infectious agents or internal and external forces. It is a leading animal welfare concern in the dairy industry and also has substantive economic consequences, as productivity is decreased through reduced reproduction, milk production and increased culling. Various management practices for preventing lameness and treating lame cows have been developed. Despite this, lameness persists as an industry problem. Quite a number of stakeholders are involved in lameness management on a dairy farm, including farmers, hoof trimmers, and veterinarians but there ideas with respect to prevalence, management and treatment are not necessarily the same.  Therefore, the study by Dr E.M. Wynands and colleagues sought to explore perceptions of lameness, perceptions of roles in lameness management, and barriers to improved lameness management in these groups. They have published the results in the Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 104 of 2021, page 11889 to 11903 with the title: Dairy farmer, hoof trimmer, and veterinarian perceptions of barriers and roles in lameness management.

Fourteen homogeneous focus groups were held in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York; five with farmers (n = 31), four with hoof trimmers (n = 32), and five with veterinarians (n = 25). The one hour facilitated discussions were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and common themes identified through thematic analysis.

Lameness was perceived by participants as a complex health problem and one in which the connections between pathogenesis, facilities, and management were not always well understood or easy to change. The complexity of the problem encompassed the lack of agreement on a definition of lameness, normalization to its signs, and the interconnectedness of lameness with other health and management issues. These issues appeared to contribute to resignation by participants that lameness was inevitable. Despite shared concerns about lameness among these groups, respondents reported a lack of communication, especially between hoof trimmers and veterinarians. Participants also voiced a desire to work together more productively, with hoof trimmers and veterinarians valuing the ability to deliver a consistent message to farmers.

Conclusions: Dairy farmer, hoof trimmer, and veterinarian participants in this study viewed lameness as a highly complex management challenge. Participants highlighted that all stakeholders have a role in lameness management and found lameness to be a shared responsibility on a dairy farm. Increasing farmer, hoof trimmer and veterinarian communication and collaboration in making decisions may help achieve improvements in lameness.