September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"Hoof health is very important," said Gerard Cramer, DVM and associate professor at the University of Minnesota.
Cramer shared his insight on keeping hooves healthy during his breakout session, "Strategies to Improve Foot Health", at the Minnesota Organic Conference on Jan. 11 in St. Cloud, Minn.
"Hoof health has an obvious economical impact on dairy farms," Cramer said.
Decreased milk production, decreased reproduction and higher cull rates are only some of the economical challenges farmers can face with poor hoof health.
"Lame cows are more work for producers," Cramer said.
It's not just more work for the producer. According to Cramer, it's an animal welfare issue, too.
"What message does it send to consumers?" Cramer asked. "If we are asked what is our plan for that cow, we need to have an appropriate response."
When looking at organic farms and conventional farms, laminitis is a concern for both management styles.
In an organic herd, the average amount of lame cows is 25.5 percent, with 3.4 percent being severely lame. With a conventional herd, there are an average of 26.4 percent of cows are lame with 4.3 percent that are severely lame.
"From organic to conventional, laminitis is typical on dairy farms. I was not surprised with this data," Cramer said. "There is no difference, no matter what system or housing type."
The top three most common foot diseases on dairy farms are digital dermatitis (warts), sole ulcers, and white line disease.
Digital dermatitis is caused by the bacterium, spirochaetes, which is present in the environment, and is known as an infectious hoof disease.
"There has to be damage to the skin in order for digital dermatitis to occur," Cramer said. "Most cases peak in early lactation."
Farmers have used copper sulfate, sugar or honey and other non-labeled treatments for digital dermatitis.
"Everyone will have a success story, but farmers have to find what works for them," Cramer said.
Treating digital dermatitis is not easy.
"It is hard. The bacteria coil up when they come in contact with something that will kill them, making it difficult to eliminate the bacteria," Cramer said. "Certain cows will come back with it. Whichever treatment farmers use, they need to think of how it will work for the cows and with organic herds, they will have to work with their certifier."
Another infectious disease, which isn't as common, is foot rot. This disease causes bilateral swelling on the claws and gives off a distinct odor.
"If there is only swelling on one side, it is not foot rot," Cramer said.
According to Cramer, foot rot can be treated topically, but only if it is treated early.
"If farmers don't treat it, the infection will move into the joints," Cramer said. "My suggestion is to treat it with antibiotics. For organic dairies, that would mean removing the cow from the organic herd for an animal welfare reason."
With these two infectious diseases, manure and moisture are things farmers want to avoid.
"Manure and moisture set the cows up for it," Cramer said. "Manure should not go above the dewclaws."
Unlike digital dermatitis and foot rot, sole ulcers and white line disease are non-infectious foot diseases.
Sole ulcers are caused by the compression of the corium tissue by the P3 bone inside the hoof. This is caused by excessive standing time, loss of the digital wall in the hoof and relaxation of the ligament.
"The cow mobilizes body fat for production during early lactation," Cramer said. "The digital cushion is made of fatty tissue, and if cattle lose that, they are set up to become lame."
Cramer said the key to preventing the sole ulcers by helping cows maintain good body condition scores.
White line disease happens when the sole separates from the wall of the hoof, allowing pathogens to infect the white line area and cause an internal abscess. Forces on the feet and abnormal hoof shape can contribute to the disease.
If a cow ends up with a sole ulcer or white line disease, Cramer said to trim the hooves and take the weight off of it.
"I usually put a block on the opposite side and remove all the dead tissue. Taking the weight off is incredibly useful to the cow," Cramer said. "We also want to decrease the walking requirements on a cow and recheck in four to six weeks."
When it comes to managing healthy hooves on a dairy farm, farmers can breed for better cows and adjust their management practices.
"Changing management is the best way to do it," Cramer said.
Cramer believes that timing is everything when it comes to herd health.
"Farmers need to know when and how hoof problems happen," Cramer said. "Digital dermatitis is more prevalent in early lactation and 300 days in milk while the other diseases are spread out in lactation. Knowing this will help make preventing it easier and make better decisions," Cramer said.
To lower the number of infections, Cramer suggests identifying the type of lesion a cow has. This will help farmers determine what management strategy to implement to reduce the risk of future problems.
With digital dermatitis, a farmer should make sure there is low infection pressure by keeping areas clean and dry. A farmer who is dealing with white line disease will need to focus more on good horn quality and shape as well as keeping cows comfortable. Sole ulcers will require early detection and treatment along with keeping cows comfortable.
"We have to remember the big picture," Cramer said. "We have to remember what we are trying to accomplish. When we focus on that, the whole system improves."
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