Bovine Lameness and Podiatry

Bovine Living Quarters

Foot health is impacted by where the cows live (rest, eat, play, have babies, get milked) and how they move between these areas. This is particularly true for dairy cattle.

All animals need a comfortable space to rest. Between milkings, most dairy cattle should be found in the “resting area”. They eat a bit, drink and then go lie down – lying down about 12 hours per day. The resting area is usually comprised of a canvas “mattress” stuffed with shredded tires. This gets covered with sawdust or similar material. This area gets cleaned during milking. Other cows may be bedded on sand (eg during the dry off period) or on dried manure packs.

Bedding comparisons

The goal for the resting area is comfort and cleanliness.  Comfort means not only soft under the cow (remember dairy cows have minimal extra padding on bony protuberances) but also room to lie down and stand up without bumping into firm objects. Cleanliness is related to how long the resting area is, as well as how often it is cleaned. Ideally, the resting area is long enough for the cow to have lunging space forward (needed to stand up) but is just the right length so the manure falls off the edge of the space and into the gutter. If a cow is short relative to the space, she poops in the bedding versus into the gutter. It is also important to have enough resting space for all the cows.

Freestall design

The aisles are another high risk area. Floors should be grooved or otherwise roughened enough to provide traction. Cows should not have to walk too far to get to the milking parlor and crowding in the aisles should be minimized.


Epidemiology of lameness in cattle, Cramer and Solano,

Small Scale Dairy Calf and Cattle Housing, UMass

The Relationship of Cow Comfort and Flooring to Lameness Disorders in Dairy Cattle; VCNA FA 2017; Volume 33, Issue 2, July 2017, Pages 227-233

An Update on the Assessment and Management of Pain Associated with Lameness in Cattle VCNA FA 2017; Volume 33, Issue 2, July 2017, Pages 389-411


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Large Animal Surgery - Supplemental Notes Copyright © by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.