A common reason for culling dairy cows is lameness. An important element of cow welfare during transport is to make sure they are fit for transport before they are loaded into the trailer, according to researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark.
This includes an evaluation of whether their lameness is serious enough to preclude transport. Farmers, livestock drivers and veterinarians regularly face the task of assessing transport fitness of lame dairy cows, Aarhus said, adding that the question is how similar their assessments are to each other.
The Aarhus researchers have done an initial investigation in which they asked farmers, livestock drivers and veterinarians to evaluate cow lameness and fitness for transport based on video sequences. The aim of the study — which Aarhus said is one of the first of its kind — was to evaluate the extent of agreement among farmers, livestock drivers and veterinarians — both within and between the groups — with regard to assessing cows’ lameness and fitness for transport.
The researchers used an online questionnaire with 30 video sequences of walking cows. The respondents were asked to score each cow for lameness and assess if it was fit for transport or not, the announcement said. A total of 55 people participated in the survey: 19 farmers, 19 veterinarians and 17 livestock drivers.
The cows in the videos varied from having a completely normal gait to being severely lame. Each cow was scored as to whether it was “not lame,” “slightly lame” or “lame.” The participants were given definitions of these categories beforehand: a “not lame” cow was one that walked normally, a “slightly lame” cow was one that did not walk normally but it was not possible to see which leg was affected and a “lame” cow was one where it could been seen which leg was affected.
The participants were also asked to assess, solely on the basis of the cow’s lameness, if she was fit for transport.
Slightly different assessments
In general, agreement among the groups was moderate, the researchers said, explaining that the group of veterinarians tended to assess more of the cows as being lame, while the group of farmers tended to assess fewer of the cows as being unfit for transport. Otherwise, the researchers said there was no systematic agreement or disagreement within or among the groups.
“If our results hold in a larger survey, they indicate that there is a need for more focus on assessment of fitness for transport. This could, for example, take the form of training of the various groups that undertake the assessments. The aim would be to ensure good animal welfare during transport,” said Peter T. Thomsen from the Aarhus department of animal science and one of the researchers behind the study.
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