Can breeding improve hoof health?

By Steve Mason on

Management practices play a very important role in the development of hoof lesions. Many factors may influence hoof health, including type of floor and its condition (dry/wet, clean/dirty, presence/absence of adequate amount of bedding), nutrition and feeding management (low body scoring cows, overcrowding at feed bunk), as well the type of stall (e.g. higher prevalence of lesions in free-stalls than in tie-stalls). Also very important is the trimming schedule; each cow should be trimmed at least twice a year, ideally during the dry period and again around 100 days in milk.

Decreasing the incidence of hoof lesions can also be achieved through genetic selection. Under the same management conditions, some cows will develop a lesion; others will not. In the same way, some cows will recover more easily than others, and for some cows the same lesion will occur with a higher frequency or severity over the course of a single lactation. Therefore, selecting for resistance to hoof lesions could contribute to decreasing their prevalence in dairy herds since genetic improvement is permanent and improvements accumulate through generations.

Hoof lesions recorded using the Hoof Supervisor® system in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario (summarized here) have been analyzed to evaluate the possibility of using this type of data for selection purposes. Results were promising, despite the fact that the volume of data needs to increase in order to allow validation. Despite the low heritability of hoof health traits, the estimated breeding values (EBVs) showed variability between sires. Higher EBVs were observed for sires with lower prevalence of affected daughters, creating the possibility of selecting on the basis of hoof health parameters. The table below illustrates differences in the prevalence of hoof lesions in daughters of sires with high or low EBVs for resistance to 3 specific lesions.

A project currently underway in Canada is aimed at linking hoof lesion data collected by trimmers with the Hoof Supervisor® system into the national Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) database for use in genetic selection.

Percentage of daughters with specific hoof lesions from all, the best 10% and the worst 10% of sires according to their EBVs for resistance to those lesions. Only sires with at least 50 daughters were included (n = 182).

TraitPercentage of daughters with hoof lesion
Best 10% of siresAll siresWorst 10% of sires
Digital dermatitis7.414.222.7
Sole ulcer2.94.58.2
Interdigital hyperplasia0.61.64.1

source: Francesca Malchiodi, Anne-Marie Christen and Filippo Miglior; DAIRY GLOBAL Volume 2, No. 3, Page 11, 2015


One comment

  1. Some off base assumptions in this proposal. Producers seeing value in using top sires also probably see value in preventive hoof trimming, proper FootBaths, cow comfort and other good management. Research dollars better spent elsewhere.

Leave a Reply

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