I’ve been in the hoof care business for more than 22 years and the dairy industry all my life, and I believe farms think they are doing all they can to provide the environments for optimal animal welfare and comfort; however, the reality is: Our industry lameness average is still too high – estimated at 25 to 40 percent, depending on which study you want to quote.
Many believe that 0 percent lameness is not a possible or a realistic goal, but I am challenging every dairy to have more days with no lame cows than days with a cow with lameness issues. In this article, I propose a straight-forward three-step strategy to achieve zero lameness.
To examine the influence of their hoof trimming strategies on hoof health, herds participating in phase 1 of the Alberta Dairy Hoof Health Project were classified according to whether they did whole-herd or partial-herd trims. On farms with partial-herd trims, prevalences of the most common lesions were higher than on farms with whole-herd trims.
Zinpro has recently released a new book and app dealing with beef and dairy cattle hoof health. ‘Cattle Lameness: Identification, Prevention and Control of Claw Lesions’ is a Zinpro-led industry effort to assist cattle producers in improving animal wellness through the prevention of lameness.
Dr. Ernest Hovingh, an Extension Veterinarian at Penn State University, has contributed 2 excellent webinars on dairy cattle lameness. Both webinars extend from details of hoof anatomy to best management practices aimed at promoting hoof health.
Current recommendations for the length of the dorsal hoof wall after trimming range from 60 to 85 mm; the most common recommendation being 75 mm. A British research study that examined internal claw structure using x-ray computed tomography (CT scan) suggests that the minimum external dorsal claw length recommendation should be increased to at least 90 mm for Holstein-Friesian cows over 4 years of age and at least 85 mm for younger cows.
Non-healing (nh) bovine hoof horn lesions, characterized by penetration of the horn capsule and association with white line disease (nhWLD) and sole ulcers (nhSU) are frequently encountered in dairy herds endemically affected by digital dermatitis (DD). Lesions of this type are associated with more severe lameness, often leading to claw amputation or slaughter and they respond poorly to standard DD treatment. Researchers in Austria recently described a successful therapy for such lesions.
According to Dr. Nigel Cook, achieving a high level of herd performance and controlling lameness go hand-in-hand.
“You cannot manage your herd successfully unless you manage lameness,” he said. “It undermines everything you try to do. It impacts the way the cow behaves, the way she walks, the way she eats, the way she rests. It impacts reproduction and increases the risk for early removal.”
In a survey of 22 intensively managed, high-producing commercial dairies in Wisconsin, Cook compared lameness prevalence to that of cows kept primarily on pasture.
Hoof blocks, fixed under one claw to allow the other claw to recover from corrective trimming, are used to reduce pain during the healing process. A German trial compared the used of uniform thickness wood and flexible synthetic hoof blocks with wedge-shaped blocks of the same materials.
After more than 28 years working as a hoof trimmer in the dairy industry and, like many others, seeing the many changes within the dairy industry, I think a simple question has to be asked: “Why is lameness increasing as an issue?”