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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’s really important to make sure that areas like shed ventilation and cleaning of passages and cut-throughs are monitored regularly. Dealing with the problems of digital dermatitis and heel erosion are far more time consuming and costly than trying to reduce and maintain a low infection pressure. The act of initially minimising infection pressure could take some time, and the effects could take up to a year to see the benefit of, but it will be worth it in the end.

Some sources of infection to consider within the cows’ environment could be the cross overs between passages where cows could easily pick up bacteria especially if there is a water trough or brush that cows will congregate around. Another could be the muck in the bottom of the footbath which makes hooves both wet and dirty, and could contaminate every cow to pass through it. Footbaths should be cleaned out or removed after each use.

Finally, a big source of infection within cows’ environments is the cows themselves! Infected hooves are constantly spreading bacteria. The wet and warm areas around the foot and in the interdigital space are the ideal breeding ground for bacteria.


Early intervention is crucial for healthy feet. Recognition of different kinds of hoof problem is something that all staff members should be trained in. Being able to spot an issue early is the first stage of swift action. The second stage is to treat as soon as possible, ideally within 48 hours of the problem being detected. Once she’s been treated, her condition should be monitored for a further 3 or 4 days.

Having someone not directly employed on the farm to come and mobility/lameness score on a regular basis is another great way to keep on top on foot health. This enables foot health to be tracked over time, and a second pair of eyes on the farm can spot areas within the environment hat could be classed as risk factors.

To make the action both fast and effective, make sure everyone involved in the process of monitoring foot health has had all the training that they need, and that the training is refreshed on a regular basis. For example, whoever is responsible for foot trimming needs be up to date on modern foot trimming techniques. Methods and thinking changes over time, so it's worth going on a refresher course even if you're an experienced foot trimmer.

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