How one veterinarian works with dairy herds to control lameness

By Nigel Cook on

When troubleshooting lameness problems, I use a structured approach starting with locomotion scoring, lesion analysis and assessment of the routine hoof-trimming and lame cow surveillance program. It is essential that the hoof-trimming is a component of prevention rather than a risk factor in itself. I then examine the risk factors for each of the key hoof lesions and finish with a review of feeding practices. From this examination, we can create a herd specific action plan designed to maximize impact on the key hoof lesions on the farm.

For digital dermatitis prevention, we focus on the early identification of acute lesions (before the cattle are lame) and prompt effective treatment, starting around breeding age in replacement heifer pens and continuing throughout the life of the animal, coupled with an effective footbath program to control the chronic lesions and hold them in check.

For sole ulcer prevention we target risk factors that extend daily standing times—stall design and surface cushion, stocking density, milking times, heat abatement and lock up times for management tasks. We optimize the transition period to maximize rest and reduce body condition loss in early lactation.

Finally, for control of white line lesions, we examine areas of the farm where flooring puts the cow at risk of slipping, trauma and excessive hoof wear, and watch workers to ensure low stress handling—especially around the parlour operation.

The overall approach is summarized in the outline below. Each assessment results in a problem list which can then be used to develop a targeted action plan for the herd.

1. Locomotion Scoring
A representative number of animals in the herd, including cows in sick or lame pens, first lactation heifers and early, mid and late lactation mature cows should be locomotion scored. If more than 15% are lame, a herd lameness problem is indicated.
2. Hoof Trimming Assessment
Examine the feet of 10-15 cows, preferably with the hoof trimmer. Cows should include recently treated, new cases of lameness, fresh cows and mid-lactation cows.
Determine the target number of routine trims that should be occurring based on herd size.
Assess the efficacy of the hoof trimming technique and determine whether trimming is positive, neutral or harmful.
Confirm lesion definitions being used by trimmer.
3. Hoof Records Assessment
Determine the predominant lesion problems for LAME and TRIM events (focus on first event vs repeat events). Examine lesion trends by parity and over time. Track timing of first lesion event by days in milk. Examine chronicity: M-stage scores, times trimmed per cow, etc.
4. Infectious Hoof Lesions
Where infectious lesions predominate, focus on hygiene, footbath use, lesion recognition and early treatment, starting in the youngstock pens and proceeding to multiparous cows.
Ensure footbath is appropriately designed and operated to maximize control of chronic stages of digital dermatitis without harming skin health.
5. Sole Ulcers
Examine risk factors for prolonged standing each day, including stall comfort, milking times, stocking density, transition period, heat stress, time spent in lockup.
6. White Line Lesions
Assess standing and walking surfaces for risk of wear, trauma and slipping. Assess animal handling and ensure low stress handling philosophy, especially around the milking parlour.
7. Nutrition and Feeding
Ensure adequate levels of minerals and vitamins throughout rearing and lactation cycle. Feed to avoid risk of rumen acidosis. Transition to minimize body condition loss in early lactation and maintain condition score > 2.5.
8. Problem List
Identify problem areas and consider the costs and benefits of possible interventions to improve them.
9. Action Plan
Starting with the changes that will produce the greatest impact on the herd problem, develop a farm-specific action plan (usually no more than six changes), facilitating these changes as much as possible.

adapted from a keynote presentation by Nigel Cook at the 29th World Buiatrics Congress, Dublin, Ireland, 3-8 July 2016

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