Nigel Cook, UW-Madison
Nigel Cook, UW-Madison
    MADISON, Wis. – Lameness impacts every herd and affects every aspect of a cow’s day. Fortunately, proper trimming, efficient footbath use, good flooring and stall design, and appropriate handling practices can help dairies prevent lameness.
    “No other disease has such fundamental and extensive effects on production, reproduction and risk for early removal from the herd,” said Nigel Cook, a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, March 2 during the Dairyland Initiative Workshop webinar.
    During his presentation, “Taking steps to prevent lameness in dairy cattle,” Cook addressed three key areas in preventing lameness – hoof care, disinfection and cow comfort.
    “Good hoof care is essential and goes a long way in preventing lameness,” Cook said. “When done correctly, trimming should restore a more upright claw angle and balance weight between the inner and outer claws.”
    Toe length should be cut to 3 inches. Overgrown hoof wall should be removed and the claw balanced by removing overgrowth. The trimmer should remove buckle if present and trim the sole flat so it is perpendicular to the shinbone.
    Trim cows twice per lactation – around 120 days in milk and again at dry-off. Cook said a maximum of 50 cows per trimmer per day is ideal to ensure quality work. He also suggests trimming difficult cows at the beginning of the day and easier ones at the end.
    “We can do a lot of good with hoof care, and we can also do a lot of bad,” Cook said. “Is hoof trimming a positive or negative for your herd?”  
    Signs of poor trimming include things like a hoof wall trimmed too short or toes that are trimmed too short.
    “You shouldn’t see the heel of the inner claw trimmed too much as this doesn’t grow back,” Cook said. “Also, do not remove the axial wall in the toe. This is a weight-bearing surface that should be left intact. Do not leave wraps and blocks on too long. The ideal time is 24-48 hours, or three days max.”
    Disinfection plays a critical role in preventing and treating infectious foot ailments known to cause lameness in dairy cattle, such as digital dermatitis and foot rot. These diseases are caused by bacterial agents, and poor hygiene is a major contributor.
    “Standing and walking through manure is bad for cows’ feet, and hooves coated with manure is a known risk factor for digital dermatitis,” said Cook, who recommends a manure removal system other than automatic scrapers. “Genetics and nutrition can also play a part.”
    Digital dermatitis is characterized by active and inactive lesions. Active lesions are painful, small, red, strawberry-like lesions that should be treated with a topical treatment such as tetracycline.   
    Routine use of a footbath multiple times per week is recommended to keep inactive lesions from becoming active. Contact is important, and longer baths work better. The ideal footbath design allows for two to three immersions per foot. Footbaths should be 10-12 feet long and 24 inches wide sloped to 3 feet at 3 feet high with a 10-inch-high step.
    Use an antibacterial with evidence of efficacy against DD and foot rot, such as copper sulfate. Cook recommends no higher than 5% copper sulfate and said to monitor soil copper levels.
    If using formalin, do not go above 4% and avoid use in cold weather. The use of an acidifier should be to a pH no lower than 3.
    Treatments are effective for approximately 150 to 300 cow passes. When implementing footbaths, do not forget about dry cows and heifers. Prevention is key. Studies show heifers that contract DD during the rearing period are more likely to get the disease in their first lactation.
    Cow comfort is important for preventing lameness. Increased standing time on hard surfaces can be a major cause of foot problems such as sole ulcers. Referred to as the standing up disease, getting cows to lie down and rest can eliminate sole ulcers. White line disease and sole ulcers cause the claw to lose its normal anatomy and architecture, creating permanent changes to the claw. A cow with these problems is susceptible to repeat ulcers and toe lesions.
    “A good flooring surface is a critical component of good cow comfort,” Cook said. “White line lesions are an external force lesion created by poor flooring and poor handling. Forcing a cow to stop and change direction creates a recipe for white line. Slatted floors also cause trauma to the claw and elevate the risk for white line lesion development. Cows often walk in a line in the space between slats to avoid the trauma of standing over the slat – they don’t like them.”
    Stocking density, time in pen, stall comfort and heat stress are factors that determine lying time. Overstocking results in reduced rest. A 1 to 1.5 stocking density ratio decreases lying time by 15%. A 1 to 2 stocking density ratio decreases lying time by 25%.
    “Aim for a resting time of 11.5 to 12.5 hours per day,” Cook said.
    Deep sand offers cushion, traction and support to facilitate rising and lying movements, and is the preferred bed surface for dairy cows, encouraging the most amount of rest. In a study, sand bedding resulted in the greatest amount of lying time compared to other surfaces at 11.7 hours per day. Wider stalls featuring less restrictive neck rail locations, low rear curb heights and absence of lunge obstructions are also helpful in preventing lameness.
    Thin soles and toe lesions are commonly seen on larger dairies where cows walk long distances on concrete. To remove pressure, the handler should walk in a zig zag pattern when moving cattle to the milking center rather than walking in a straight line.
    “This takes pressure off the backs of these cows and allows them to move at their own pace but still keeps everybody moving forward,” Cook said. “Also, limit the use of crowd gates. We’ve seen white line issues where there’s controllers on these gates. People are trying to milk faster and faster and don’t even see what they’re doing as they press the button to advance the gate. We see cows slipping and hoof damage as a result.”
    To create a more walkable surface for cows, grooves may be floated into new concrete or cut into existing concrete. Good grooving requires concrete with correctly sized aggregate, and correctly set and mixed concrete that is not too dry or too wet. Concrete should be left to cure for as long as possible. Cook said good concrete is 3/4 inches wide, a 1/2 inch deep and 3 1/4 inches on center to make good contact with the hoof. Leave concrete five days before cutting grooves and 30 days before cows walk on it.
    Finally, give cows a break from concrete by installing rubber transfer lanes to reduce hoof wear to and from the parlor, and reduce pressure on cows’ feet during milking by adding rubber to the parlor platform.
    “A lameness goal of less than 10% is achievable for most herds,” Cook said. “As for severe lameness, the goal should be zero or less than 1%. Good hoof care, footbath and cow comfort practices can keep lameness numbers at a manageable level.”