Claw disorders and disturbed locomotion in dairy cows: the effect of floor systems and implications for animal welfare

J.G.C.J. Somers

Research output: Thesispromoter, other


In modern dairy housing, flooring conditions lead to restricted locomotion and claw disorders. Epidemiological studies showed that housing on concrete floors was positively correlated with the incidence of lameness and claw disorders. Lameness and claw disorders constitute a significant health and welfare problem in modern dairy farming. Animals experience pain, are limited in their natural behaviour and can less easily meet their biological needs. The research in this thesis is focused on epidemiological and ethological aspects of claw disorders and disturbed locomotion with special emphasises on floor type and implications for animal welfare. The majority of the 1.5 million dairy cows in The Netherlands are nowadays housed in cubicle houses with concrete stall floors. A small percentage of dairy cows are housed in straw yards. This housing system has a deep litter (straw-bedded) area where animals can rest collectively, accompanied by a concrete walking surface in front of the feed alley. At first, we investigated the claw health of more than 7500 dairy cows on different stall floors. Four-fifths of the cows on a concrete stall floor suffered from one or more claw problems. Reduced figures in affected claws (58%) were found in cows housed in straw-yard systems. Additional risk-factor analyses showed that specific measures in the area of accommodation and management could improve the situation on dairy farms. The animals benefit from 24-hr pasturing in the summer, floor hygiene by automatic manure scraper, comfortable bedding spaces in the stall, a balanced ration, and regular claw care. In a follow-up study, the effect of claw problems on the walking pattern of the cows on different floor systems has been investigated. Monthly locomotion scores of individual cows were linked with a cow’s status on two common infectious claw lesions: i.e. digital dermatitis (DD) and interdigital dermatitis and heel erosion (IDHE). Serious lesions of DD and IDHE highly affected locomotion performance and caused significant disturbances in gait. By far the best walking pattern was seen in cows in a straw yard. In more than 80 percent of cases, they walked normally. Less than 1 percent were lame. Cows on a concrete floor walked considerably less well. A quarter walked tenderly, whereas almost 30 percent of the animals exhibited some form of lameness. Only 45 percent walked normally in an unhindered manner. The poor walking was partly caused by painful feet as a consequence of claw disorders, but the hardness of the concrete floor was also a significant factor. Painful feet and disrupted movement have physical consequences for the behaviour and activity of the cows. The research demonstrated that animals with a serious abnormality laid down less frequently, spent less time at the feeding rack and arrived in the milking parlour later. The use of soft, cushioning stall floors could make a useful contribution to solving the problem of disturbed locomotion and claw disorders
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Stassen, Elsbeth, Promotor
  • Metz, Jos, Promotor
  • Frankena, Klaas, Co-promotor
  • Schouten, W.G.P., Co-promotor
Award date23 Sep 2004
Print ISBNs9789039338056
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • dairy cows
  • claws
  • animal diseases
  • locomotion
  • floors
  • animal welfare

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