Dollar losses due to lameness are not easily detected on dairy farms. That also means that there is a cost to not maintaining health hooves in your dairy herd. Dr. Chuck Guard, DVM, Cornell University recently updated his cost analysis for lameness at around $545.00 per incident. This disease is one of the highest costs with loss in milk production of 750 pounds and reproduction. It takes 28 more days to get a 2 year old cow pregnant as an example. This is not to mention the long term consequences of having sore feet.
The best policy is to develop a no lameness tolerance. It is better to have a prevention plan rather than have a reaction plan to sore feet.
Here are some steps to take to accomplish a prevention plan.
- Locomotion observation. Locomotion Scoring information and charts are available on the CCE Delaware website. There are even videos online that show cows with sore feet walking with head bobs and arched backs. Observing cows as they stand will not always reveal when sore feet are present.
- Early intervention with weekly observation of heifers starting at 10 months of age and by following a Veterinarian approved/ prescribed practice of spraying or better yet a foot bath would decrease the prevalence of having Digital Dermatitis also known as “Hairy Foot Wart” in the whole herd. Hairy Foot Wart manifests in an anaerobic (no oxygen), dirty, moist environment and can easily be spread to herdmates. Once the skin gets weakened the causative bacteria can penetrate and cause the lesion. Keeping feet clean by scraping stalls often, providing dry stalls or areas to lay down is important. Wallowing in manure and mud is the environment that is a brewing place for trouble.
- Karl Burgi with the Dairyland Hoof Care Institute recommends a foot bath system with side walls and a 20 to 22” wide bath that is 2 and ½” deep and 10 to 12’ long. This system prevents cows from defecating as they walk through it and prevent weakening the footbath solution giving the needed 6 second contact.
- Hoof trimming should be scheduled so that first calf heifers have functional healthy feet prior to freshening and cows are looked at in the early part of the dry period to decrease any stressor in the transition period at the very least.
- Plan on a 24 hour turn around treatment for cows with sore foot that are early in the transition period to early lactation since this is a stressful time period.
- Hoof trimming does not mean that the trimmer needs to have a pile of hoof shavings to have done a good job. Cleaning off the foot and taking a look is all that may need to be done. Dr. Karl Burgi’s comment is that 85% of cows are over trimmed.
- Groves in flooring should be done in the direction of cattle traffic and should be ¾” wide, ½ “deep, and ¾ “center to center. The reasoning for this is that would prevent cows from sliding and when cleaning the barn it moves the manure out of the grooves more efficiently than if cross grooving.
- New “green” concrete or rough surfaces where cows walk will make hooves wear quicker and cause potential sole ulcerations. Taking the time to smooth out surfaces are vital for good hoof health. Grooved concrete that has just cured needs to have smoothing done by some method. Examples of that usually involve another heavy concrete block dragged across the surface enough times so that you can walk across it comfortably in bare feet.
- Pay attention to broken stall dividers as the break near the concrete could provide a hazard to feet. Walkways that have sharp gravel can be an issue as well. Talk to your dairy nutritionist about a good zinc source to help strengthen hooves.
- Keep good records from the hoof trimmer. Cows that have had permanent damage from prolonged inflammatory situations may need to be on your cull list if they are chronically sore footed.
- Don’t keep wraps on longer than 24 hours. The purpose for wraps are to hold any medication or treatment on the foot or protect a wound for a short time from having manure etc. entering it directly. Having a wrap more than 24 hours actually promotes more filth being closer to the foot.
- Cows need 12 hours of lying time for rest and rumination. Cows that are standing for prolonged periods of time are telling you something. They could be heat stressed and standing to gain more air circulation to cool off or they may not have a clean, dry, and comfortable bed to lay down in such as an overcrowded free stall. Also ally scrapers can be a source of pooled manure.
- When purchasing cattle, quarantine them if possible check for hairy foot wart and treat them immediately and aggressively.
Locomotion Scoring: https://www.zinpro.com/lameness/dairy/locomotion-scoring (Photo Credit)
Karl Burgi: http://comforthoofcare.com/
Hoards Dairymen Webinars: https://hoards.com/flex-309-Webinars.html
By April Wright Lucas, Community Educator