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Hoof care in dairy barns requires a multi-prong approach

Reducing stand times and quickly addressing inflammation and lameness are key

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Improved hoof health, limited standing time and immediate lameness mitigation goes a long way towards increasing dairy cow comfort and profitability.

Travis Busman, program director and hoof health consultant for Sure Step Consulting Ltd. told attendees of the Grey Bruce Farmers Week Dairy Day that inflammation, regardless of the cause, is the prelude to lameness.

Why it matters: The dairy sector is better understanding the long-term costs of cattle lameness.

“It’s very difficult to prevent (lameness) if we don’t understand why these things are happening,” said Busman. “Lameness exists on every dairy worldwide. If we’re going to deal with it we need to understand what’s causing it and how to deal with it successfully.”

According to the 2015 statistics shown by Busman, worldwide lameness prevalence ranges from 10 to 50 per cent, with New Zealand sitting at 8.3 per cent and Canada at 27.9, slightly above the world average of 25 per cent for cows averaging 41 kg/cow/day in milk production.

Claw horn lesions such as sole ulcers, white line disease along with infectious digital dermatitis (DD) are responsible for 95 per cent of all lameness cases worldwide.

Busman said there are a number of hoof issues outside of the top three and all can be mitigated and potentially lowered to negligible incidents through herd management and education.

Lameness comes at a heavy cost to producers both financially, mentally and in the eyes of the consumers who want to know producers are quickly addressing lameness and working to lower incidents.

Taking into account the cost of labour, culling, lost production, mastitis etc., across the board each case of lameness costs a dairy in excess of $500, he said.

A lame fresh cow or lameness in early lactation is the most expensive lameness case, said Busman, which is why it’s imperative to keep a cow’s feet in the best possible shape at calving.

“It’s expensive, no one enjoys it and it’s not good for anyone,” said Busman. “We also know… that once a cow is lame for any reason, she’s more likely to become lame again in a subsequent lactation.”

Extended periods of standing reduce circulation and increase inflammation potential, said Busman, adding the 21 days pre and post-calving are crucial times when cows are not only standing more but are going through metabolic and social changes.

“Our greatest risk due to inflammation that results in claw horn lesions is in that transition period,” he said, adding 10 days prior to a first calving, heifers are at higher risk than mature cows because they actually stand more often.

Confinement barns should trim cows once in their lactation, he said, however a more encompassing timed trim program, with trims in mid-lactation and dry-off, have resulted in very low incidents of lameness during lactation.

Digital dermatitis can be managed

  • Paying attention to heifer facilities can break the cycle of digital dermatitis. Heifers around breeding age are more susceptible to DD.
  • Hygiene is the top cause of digital dermatitis, so keep cows with it from dirty crossovers and getting manure baths from an alley scraper.
  • The object with dermatitis is not to get rid of the bacteria, but rather remove the bare requirement it needs to survive, he said.

Managing heat stress

Mitigation of standing times and being aware of heat stress events will help lower the incidents of lameness.

Busman explained that once cows reach a certain internal temperature they won’t lie down until it drops, which increases stand time, decreases circulation and increases inflammation. That makes lameness more likely.

“When we have an increase in lameness we don’t want to look at what happened today or yesterday, we want to go back four to six weeks and take a look at what happened,” he said. That’s going to give us a proper analysis of what’s happening when we look at that data.

“It’s imperative, in managing our dairy herd, we do anything we can to keep those cows off their feet,” he said. “I’m convinced we would never lose a cow to lameness if every lameness case was treated within 24 hours. Not an easy thing to do but that really needs to be the goal.”

Tips for treating lameness

  • Treating lameness within the first 24 hours can stop the problem from worsening.
  • Value farriers on lameness prevention versus how many cows are trimmed in a day.
  • Infectious digital dermatitis, if treated within 10 to 14 days during the early acute phase prevents it from evolving into a chronic case where a permanent reservoir of bacteria remains in the epidermis continually re-infecting from the inside out.
  • “Blocks applied correctly save cows, no question,” said Busman, adding lameness recoveries are expedited with the use of anti-inflammatories.
  • Sole ulcers might be the easiest to mitigate because they have only two causes: a lack of functional trimming and/or a lack of timely trimming.
  • White line lesions are evident almost exclusively on the outside claw of the hind feet and are often the result of flooring issues, side trauma, and stockmanship.
  • Rubber floors in very specific locations on a dairy such as parlour decks encourage parlour flow and increase the comfort of the cows, however it can increase standing, so rubber use needs some thought.
  • In sand bedding use a deep groove of three-quarters-of-an-inch wide and half-an-inch deep on three-and-a-quarter centres in the direction of cow flow to mitigate slipping.
  • “That’s the beauty of the sand, because there’s some grip from the sand,” he said.

About the author


Diana Martin

Diana Martin has spent more than two decades in the media sector, first as a photojournalist and then evolving into a multi-media journalist. Five years ago she left mainstream media and brought her skills to the agriculture sector. She owns a small farm in Amaranth, Ont.



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