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Tech News 16

22 FEBRUARY 2017

Cows that can walk are a fundamental part of a successful dairy farming business. A lame cow won’t eat or drink as much, or as often, she won’t stand to be bulled and she’ll use up energy that could have been available for production on inflammatory response, immune function and pain suppression.


  • Good hoof quality

  • Maximise lying time and reduce pressure on hooves when walking and standing

  • Minimise negative environmental effects

  • Swift, effective action


The quality of the horn being produced and the shape of the foot are crucial to good overall foot health. Feed quality and feed intake are the first stage in ensuring good hoof horn quality. This is particularly true during her transition period around calving.

Every cow should be routinely foot checked at least once a year, and ideally 3 times. A good compromise is to check each cow at drying off and again 10-14 weeks into lactation. The important thing here is that these are foot ‘checks’ and not necessarily foot ‘trims’. Just because you’ve picked a cows’ foot up doesn’t always mean you need to do anymore that check it for length and that it’s level across the foot.

Footbathing is something else that can improve the quality of horn produced. The footbath should be used as frequently as necessary. It must be fit for purpose and clean. For Footbathing to be effective, cows’ feet should be kept as clean and dry as possible in their day to day environment. If the feet and legs are consistently dirty, it may be a good idea to review how their housing is managed and to ensure there are no areas where slurry can pool up.

Finally, you can breed for better foot health. This is obviously a much more long-term plan, but it is clear that certain cow families and breeding bulls have better feet than others. Your breeding advisor should be able to point you in the right direction with this.


The best way to minimise the forces exerted on hooves when a cow stands and walks, is to have her stand and walk as little as possible. Making sure cows have the ability to lie down as often and for as long as they like is the overall goal here. In an ideal world, we’d like them to lie down for at least 12 hours a day, and up to 16 hours a day. To do this, the beds must be soft, dry and spacious.

If possible, a cow should not be forced to stand for more than 2.25 hours per day, or for more than 1 hour at a time. The main risk time for this, of course, is milking time. Grouping cows into smaller batches can help to alleviate this problem. Another factor surrounding milking of cows is cow flow. Tight turns and rough concrete on the way in and out of milking parlours creates unnatural forces through the foot and is a primary cause of foot problems such as white line disease.

Within the cows’ housing, there should be plenty of space for cows to move around and the shed should be peaceful. This helps to make sure that cows make as few forced movements as possible. The surface that they walk on should have plenty of grip but should also be completely even and, if possible, soft. This will help to limit wear of the hoof as well as minimise trauma to the claws.


The environment that cows are housed in has an important part to play in good hoof health. As far as is practically possible, that environment should be clean and dry and free from compounds like ammonia and hydrogen sulphide. The bulb of the heel is particularly susceptible to these, as its natural protective layer can be damaged by rough or coarse floors and tracks. A damp environment causes the hoof horn to soften, meaning the hoof can carry less weight. Soft feet are also more vulnerable to ambient bacteria that cause heel horn erosion.

Knowing that soft feet are problematic and can be caused by damp conditions, it