Locomotion Scoring: Speaking a Common Language

June 10, 2014 06:56 AM

Learn how to gauge lameness by using a locomotion scoring system.
By: Heidi Carroll, Livestock Stewardship Extension Associate, SDSU Extension  

Several iGrow articles have discussed the challenges of identifying cattle lameness cases and determining appropriate actions to take depending on the cause of the lameness. When producers identify lame animals in the herd, it is helpful to consult with a veterinarian using a common language to describe the observed signs of lameness. This common language can be a locomotion scoring system, an objective measure indicating the severity of an animal’s lameness. Monitoring a herd’s locomotion score can also provide a picture of the prevalence of lameness.

Locomotion scoring uses head bobs and stride length to detect lameness at a walk. The table explains each number of the scale (0 to 3). For a description of a scoring system for dairy cows, see Wet Weather: Lameness and Mastitis.

Locomotion Scoring System*
Scoring system for observing lameness in beef cattle. *Adapted from Zinpro® Corporation, Kansas State University and the Beef Cattle Institute, 2013.

Normal (0)


  • Description: Animal walks normally, with no apparent lameness.
  • Stride: No change in gait, similar placement of hind feet to front feet location.
  • Head: Normal, comfortable
  • Back: Level

Mild Lameness (1)

Mild Lameness

  • Description: Animal does not exhibit a limp when walking.
  • Stride: Shortened
  • Head: Drops head slightly
  • Back: Level or arched

Moderate Lameness (2)

Moderate Lameness

  • Description: Animal exhibits obvious limp, favoring affected limb(s) which still bears weight.
  • Stride: Shortened
  • Head: Slight head bob
  • Back: Arched

Severe Lameness (3)

Severe Lameness

  • Description: Animal applies little or no weight to affected limb and is reluctant or unable to move; exhibits obvious limp.
  • Stride: Shortened
  • Head: Pronounced head bob
  • Back: Arched

Producers can use locomotion scoring in three ways, depending on their intended goal. First, it can be used to identify individual animals that require hoof trimming or treatment. When using locomotion scoring to identify lame animals, producers can easily incorporate the score into existing treatment records. Scoring the treated animal for several days following treatment is a nice way of tracking the success of treatment and management practices implemented.

Second, it can be used to determine the prevalence of lameness within the herd by observing all animals at a regular interval (monthly, semi-monthly, seasonally). This can be achieved by having one person observe each animal as it walks by and simply tally the number of animals that fit under each locomotion score. Knowing what percentage of a herd is twos and threes can help when making management decisions about environmental hygiene to minimize infectious agents or culling.

Third, locomotion scoring can be used to evaluate the progress and success of a newly implemented management practice or treatment protocol. This is accomplished by recording the current prevalence of lameness before the change and then observing cattle at regular intervals (weekly or monthly) following the newly implemented practice, such as a new mineral or supplementation program, pen maintenance changes or treating a hairy heel wart outbreak. Locomotion scoring gives producers the ability to identify lame animals, document improvements and adjust management practices as necessary to achieve optimized animal well-being and minimize economic losses due to lameness.

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