How High-Producing Herds Handle Lameness

By Peggy Coffeen on

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.

“They averaged 13 percent of cows walking with a limp,” he stated. “That’s on par with a lot of grazing herd surveys.”

These elite herds were taking similar strides to manage lameness:

  • 70 percent used deep, loose sand bedding;
  • 58 percent trimmed at least twice per lactation;
  • 50 percent trimmed heifers prior to calving;
  • Average foot bath use: 4.5 times per week;
  • Each had a sufficient number of trained employees regularly observing cows for lameness;
  • Several offered pasture or dirt access for some period of time.

The benefits of deep, loose bedding cannot be denied. Lame cows struggle with the transition from standing to lying, and vice versa. A stall surface like sand provides comfort and traction as the cow rises or lies down.

While great for cow comfort, sand can cause significant wear on the hooves, and that is something trimmers need to keep in mind.

“We have to adapt to the situation,” Cook explained. “If we do not recognize that and have excessive wear, and we come in with grinders and take off too much sole and shorten the toe even more, then it’s a disaster.”

In herds with excessive wear, he advises trimmers to not touch the inner claws. Likely, they are overworn. Instead, focus on shortening the toe when possible and balancing the claw. However, he warns, “If you balance an outer claw to an already worn inner claw, you just made things a whole lot worse, not better.”

Regular hoof trims timed with the cow’s stage of lactation also prevented lameness.

“Trimming at least twice per lactation or more is becoming commonplace,” Cook said. He has observed the mid-lactation trim occurring earlier, at 60 days in milk (DIM) instead of 150 DIM. Most cows are also trimmed at dry-off, but astute herds are identifying groups of cows that need one more trim prior to the end of their lactation.

Cook believes that some amount of pasture access is something freestall herds “need to build into their production systems.” Data indicates it is beneficial for lameness and can be done without a huge production hit.

source: Peggy Coffeen, Editor, Progressive Dairyman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *