Prevention is better than cure, but quick action must be taken when problems occur.
This is a brief look at a very broad topic, but let’s go over some of the important things we know about lameness. Broadly speaking, an average lameness costs about $220 based on culling risk, reduced fertility, milk drop and vet bills.
More lameness cases occur in the outer claw of the back foot because of increased weight, wear and abrasion on this claw.
Acting early on lameness is important. Don’t wait until you have a few to get the vet out. A cow treated the day she becomes lame will drop one per cent in milk production, but can drop 20 per cent after three days without treatment.
Early intervention can stop infected abscesses from getting into joints inside the foot, which are difficult to treat and carry a higher risk of culling.
Seek a veterinary opinion if there is red skin or ulceration around the heel or above the claws, or if there is a bad smell between the toes and several animals become affected at the same time, because there may be an infectious agent responsible.
Ensure that your staff members are patient and don’t rush the herd when moving cows, especially through ‘choke’ points.
Cows should be able to see the ground in front of them to place their feet carefully and avoid sharp objects on the track, thus reducing the risk of claw injury. Creating smooth flow through the shed and reducing time spent twisting and turning on concrete will minimises wear on the feet.
Cost benefit analysis into rubber flooring for areas where sharp turns are required is worth considering.
Diet can also affect lameness. Mild rumen acidosis from too much concentrate with inadequate fibre can cause laminitis, leading to white line disease, ulcers and bruising.
This might not be seen until six to eight weeks after the acidosis has occurred. An adequate fibre to starch ratio is imperative and the use of buffers and ionophores can reduce rumen acidosis. Transition feeding can also help to reduce acidosis in fresh cows.
At the turn of summer, before the ground gets wet, consider measures such as trimming long feet, and baths, or wetted carpet, with copper sulphate or formalin solutions to harden the claws and disinfect feet.
These are not as effective when conditions become muddy, because the baths get contaminated with dirt which dilutes the chemicals, requiring regular top-ups.
To manage lameness, your hoof kit might include:
Sharp hoof knives. Old hoof knives can quickly be made sharp using cheap diamond carbide steels now available from big-name hardware stores.
Angle grinders with ‘flap’ discs have less tendency to gouge than stone discs, and are better at removing a thin surface layer so you can examine a clean white area of sole.
Hoof testers, which are important for determining where the pain/lesion is located, as are adhesive blocks for the non-lame claw.
The claw hoof gauge from Demotec is a cheap, clever, German-designed guide that is worth a look for those who do their own feet trimming.
Look after tracks and laneways, especially the entrance and exit to the yard. Where possible, reduce choke points along the track that lead to bunching. Woodchips, old hay, and discarded carpet can serve as cheap and quick fixes to eroded, stony or washed out areas until longer-term measures can be put in place.