About Dairy Wellness

Genetic Selection for Reduced Lameness Made Possible
Posted by Dave Erf

Lameness is the second most costly disease in the dairy industry following mastitis.1 Health events, like lameness, can have a significant impact on herd health, saleable milk and profitability. Consequences of lameness on dairies include:

  • Lower milk production2
  • Earlier culling3
  • Lower carcass weight and quality3
  • Reduced fertility4
  • Increased mortality5  

Recognized as a significant challenge for the dairy industry, lameness is costly and common. When considering cost of treatment, lower milk production, earlier culling and mortality, your dairy could be out up to $469 per clinical case of lameness.6,7 According to the National Animal Health Monitoring System, 12.5% of cows on dairy operations were affected by lameness at least once in lactation.8 If 12.5% of your cows experienced lameness, what would that mean for your bottom line?

Reduce risk of lameness with help from CLARIFIDE® Plus
CLARIFIDE® Plus offers a new way to help reduce lameness rates by allowing you to make better genetic selection and breeding decisions with genomic data for lameness. Genetic improvement for lameness reduction is an important part of an overall management strategy and offers a way to improve your herd’s genetic ability to withstand the physical demands of lactation.

The lameness trait is powered by more than 3 million observations based on lameness occurrence records in evaluated herds. With a 6.3% heritability estimate, which is slightly higher than reproduction traits, genetic selection for lameness is possible.9 Through CLARIFIDE Plus, the average reliability is 50% for lameness estimates on young calves, which is similar to other Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) core traits such as heifer conception rate (HCR) and daughter still birth (DSB), which is much more beneficial than the alternative of no information.9 The average reliability for genomic predictions will continue to increase as more records are added to the evaluations.

Genomic lameness predictions are expressed as a standardized transmitting ability (STA), which conveys differences in disease risk relative to the average of the population. Higher values indicate lower risk of lameness, and lower values indicate higher risk. While improvement for lameness and other wellness traits is important, it’s best to instill selection strategies by using an overall selection index, such as the Dairy Wellness Profit Index™ (DWP$™), combining it with other economically important traits to achieve faster overall genetic progress in overall profitability.

Continue to employ best management practices in conjunction with genetic selection, to help minimize hoof health challenges. Best management practices include regular hoof trimming, keeping pens and stalls clean and dry, and using footbaths to help remove erosive materials from hooves.

Learn more about CLARIFIDE Plus and its ability to help genetically reduce lameness by checking out this educational video, Exploring CLARIFIDE Plus Wellness Traits: Lameness. You can find more information at or by contacting your local Zoetis representative.

1 Warnick LD, Janssen D, Guard CL, Grohm YT. The effect of lameness on milk production in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci. 2001;84(9):1988-1997.

2 Bicalho RC, Warnick LD, Guard CL. Strategies to analyze milk losses caused by diseases with potential incidence throughout the lacation: A lameness example. J Dairy Sci. 2008;91(7):2653-2661.

3 Booth CJ, Warnick LD, Gröhn YT, Maizon DO, Guard CL, Janssen D. Effect of lameness on culling in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci. 2004;87(12):4115-4122.

4 Garbarino EJ, Hernandez JA, Shearer JK, Risco CA, Thatcher WW. Effect of lameness on ovarian activity in postpartum Holstein cows. J Dairy Sci. 2004;87(12):4123-4131.

5 McConnel CS, Lombard JE, Wagner BA, Garry FB. Evaluation of factors associated with increased dairy cow mortality on United States dairy operations. J Dairy Sci. 2008:91(4):1423-1432.

6 Cha E, Hertl JA, Bar D, Gröhn YT. The cost of different types of lameness in dairy cows calculated by dynamic programming. Prev Vet Med. 2010;97(1):1-8.

7 Guard C. The costs of common diseases of dairy cattle, in Proceedings. Central Vet Conf 2008.

8 USDA Dairy 2007. Part IV: Reference of Dairy Cattle Health and Management Practices in the United States. Fort Collins, CO: United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; 2009:91.

9 Data on file, Zoetis internal data, August 2015, Zoetis Inc.


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