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A dirty job…but somebody's got to do it!

Marcia Endres

Published in Dairy Star September 22, 2007

I heard there is a program on Discovery Channel called ‘Dirty Jobs’ and that in one of the shows, the profession chosen by the host was a hoof trimmer. Yes, it might be a dirty job, but hoof trimming is very important on the dairy farm. It needs to be done right, by a well trained, professional hoof trimmer.

During a recent series of hoof care on-farm workshops presented around the state, we heard from 3 different people that hoof trimming can make a significant impact on reducing the prevalence of lameness on dairy farms.  One of those people was the hoof trimmer who we invited to give a live demonstration of hoof trimming and highlight important aspects related to cow ‘pedicures’.  Hoof trimmers participating in our program were Brian Husfeldt at Dreier Dairy near Norwood/Young America; Brian LeClair at Bartchelle Dairy near Little Falls; and Bill Abrahamzon at Rumpus Ridge Dairy near Preston.  All of these trimmers use the ‘Dutch’ method of hoof trimming.  After a maintenance trimming, each claw should measure 3 inches from where the hard horn starts to the tip of the toe.  In addition, the sole thickness should never be less than 0.25 inch, the white line should be kept intact, and the feet should be flat and balanced. One additional point made by the hoof trimmers is the need to trim hooves of springing heifers at maybe 4 to 6 weeks before calving. They have seen an improvement in foot health in herds that adopted this practice.

Another speaker on the program, Dwight Kickhafer from Zinpro Corporation, also mentioned the importance of preventative and therapeutic hoof trimming.  He emphasized that trimming be done by a competent trimmer. It is important after trimming to observe how many cows not lame prior to trimming are lame after trimming.  There should be none.  My presentation was based on research we’ve done in Minnesota showing the association between regular scheduled maintenance trimming and reduced lameness in freestall herds. Well, it seems that we all agreed on that point.  What do you think?  Do you have all your cows' hooves trimmed twice a year?

In addition to hoof trimming, there are other management practices that need to be done on the dairy to help reduce the prevalence of lameness. Our study in Minnesota freestall herds showed that about 25% of cows were lame at any one time. That is too high a percentage.  A reasonable target is to have 15% or less lameness in our herds.  Lameness was measured by locomotion scoring cows, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 3 being considered a lame cow.  Those cows scoring a 3 are not as obviously lame as 4 and 5, but they need to be recognized and treated.  See Using locomotion scoring to put together a program to reduce lameness on the dairy to find further information on locomotion scoring.

Dwight presented a 4-step game plan to reduce lameness:

1) Determine the magnitude of lameness by locomotion scoring cows; more than 10% of cows scoring greater than a 3 means problems;

2) Define the problem – whether it is infectious (digital dermatitis, heel erosion, foot rot, interdigital dermatitis) or non-infectious (sole ulcers, white line disease, thin soles, overgrowth);

3) Evaluate and correct problem areas – they could be related to nutrition, the cow’s environment, trimming, or genetics;

4) Monitor results by locomotion scoring cows on a regular basis.

If the main problem is infectious, evaluate hygiene, diet, trimming schedule, and footbath protocol.  If non-infectious, evaluate cow comfort, management, handling and time budgets, heat abatement, and diet’s fiber content, particle size, trace mineral content and source.

During the workshop, I also mentioned some key aspects of stall design and the importance of providing adequate resting, head bobbing and lunging space for the cows.  Cows need to be using the stalls rather than standing on concrete.  In addition, they should not spend much time standing in the holding pen and parlor.  Limit time away from the pen to less than 4 hours a day.  Increased standing times will result in more lameness.

There is a lot going on at every dairy and unfortunately, hoof health and maintenance might not be a priority sometimes. However, lameness is a costly condition and one that causes a lot of pain to the cow.  I think it is the major welfare concern in our dairies today.  We can do something about it.  It takes consistently implementing the plan briefly described here.

Wish your cows happy feet!

(We would like to thank Minnesota Dairy Initiatives and Zinpro Corporation for their statewide sponsorship of this event, and the Carver County Dairy Core Team, AgStar, and SE MN Dairy Initiatives for their local sponsorship.)

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