Aim: To investigate possible relationships between the incidence of lameness in dairy cows, and walking order from the paddock into the milking shed, milking order, and dominance structure in the herd.
Methods: Ten dairy herds from the Taranaki region in New Zealand, with an average herd size of 183 cows, were observed during early, mid and late lactation. Each observation period consisted of five observations within 1 week, totalling 15 observations per farm. Three observers recorded the daily movement of cows between paddocks and the milking shed at each of three different locations. Additionally, the dominance structure of 21 cows per herd, randomly selected at the beginning of the study, was determined at the beginning of each of the three observation periods, on the basis of antagonistic behaviour.
Results: Within herds, walking and milking order showed a Kappa value of 0.31, reflecting fair agreement beyond chance. Based on the multivariate model, an increased risk of lameness was found for cows that walked or were milked in the last quarter of the herd (OR=1.8 and 1.5, respectively) compared with animals that walked/were milked in the first three quarters of the herd. The dominance structure of the randomly selected animals remained stable during the course of the lactation. High dominance animals tended to walk at the front of the herd and get milked first, whereas low dominance animals tended to walk at the back of the herd and get milked last. Although lameness was not significantly related to the dominance group, this could have been due to the low power of the study.
Conclusions: The results of the study suggested that there is a relationship between the position of the animal in the herd and the risk of lameness in dairy cows, but that the strength of this relationship varied between herds.
Clinical relevance: Walking/milking order was a risk factor for conditions causing lameness in dairy cows, and for the effective management of herd lameness problems it is important for farmers to be aware of this relationship.