The variability in dairy cow gait characteristics, determined by measurements of footprints (trackway measurements), was analysed. Seven gait parameters were determined from 32 non-lame dairy cows during free-speed walking on a slatted concrete walkway. The footprints were revealed by application of a thin lime powder-slurry layer to the walkway surface. The cows were observed on two test occasions with a 3-week interval, with measurements from four consecutive strides used within each test session. The variance components for cow, test and cow–test interaction were estimated by a residual (restricted) maximum likelihood method. The percentage of each variance component was calculated to assess the relative impact of each factor on total variance. Between-test variation was generally low, suggesting that cows maintain the same average gait pattern, at least over a 3-week period. The proportion of within-test variation was considerable for most trackway measurements. Stride length, step angle, step width and tracking (overlap) showed low to moderate within-test variation (12% to 27%), whereas for mediolateral displacement of rear feet and step length it was rather high (54% and 62%, respectively). Within-test variation in step asymmetry was very high (77%), suggesting the occurrence of natural, non-systematic changes in inter-limb coordination in non-lame cows. For better understanding the gait pattern in non-lame cows, linear associations between the trackway measurements and with body size were assessed. It was concluded that trackway measurements were able to describe the gait pattern in walking cows under dairy farm conditions. However, considering the relatively
high within-test variation in gait, several strides should be used to obtain a representative gait pattern.