Dairy Discussion Group Meeting - Foot Care

In the last week of November we held our first dairy discussion group meeting of the winter at Sherwood Farm.  Firstly, a huge thank you to Angus Dart, Dorian Jenkins and the farm team for hosting us.  We spent an interesting morning discussing foot care in dairy cattle and the session was very well attending with lots of discussion.

We were lucky enough to be joined by Paul and Ben Clayton who provided a foot trimming demonstration to keep us abreast of the current trimming techniques.

Paul and Ben run an independent trimming business, covering most counties surrounding Wiltshire. They are both audited, qualified Trimmers. Ben is also a qualified Mobility scorer and Paul a Lantra instructor.

Lameness control in the dairy industry is a huge topic and the discussions could have gone on for a whole day quite easily.  However, we attempted to focus in on the need for a balanced approach to lameness control on UK farms.

It is very difficult to accurately assess the average rate of lameness on UK dairy farms as there is no single diagnostic measure of ‘lameness’ that is applied across our farms.  However, our most recent estimation is that approximately 25-35% of the UK dairy herd is suffering from a lameness event on any one day.  This is a worrying figure and although it will vary wildly from farm to farm, how do you think your farm compares?  We also know from recent studies that we tend to underestimate lameness on our farms by a factor of 4, so, we may estimate the lameness prevalence rate to be 5% when in actual fact it may be much closer to 20%.  This is because we tend to focus on severely lame cows and notice them, whereas mildly lame cows can slip under our radar.  How does this affect your interpretation of lameness rates on your farm?

As part of our discussions we covered 4 key areas for lameness control:

  1. Low Infection Pressure – this relates to infectious causes of lameness such as Digital Dermatitis and Foul. Hygiene, in particular slurry management, biosecurity and foot bathing play a massive part in this.
  2. Good Hoof Shape, horn quality and digital cushion – this can have a big impact on claw horn lesion such as sole ulcers and white line disease.  Important factors include genetics, nutrition (particularly managing body condition loss around calving), routine foot trimming protocols and moisture management (as both very soft and very hard feet can cause problems).
  3. Early Detection and prompt and effective treatment - this is vital, we spoke a lot about the need to treat a lame cow within 24 hours of spotting her.  Appropriate training is vital as poor trimming technique can cause further problems.  We also discussed at length the need for regular (at least monthly!) mobility scoring on farm in order to quickly detect mildly lame cows that can be treated promptly before they develop severe foot problems that can lead to culling.  There has been recent research that has shown that for claw horn problems (sole ulcer, white line disease, bruising, etc.) a trim + block + anti-inflammatory (e.g. KETOFEN) will give the quickest recovery.
  4. Forces on Feet – good cow comfort, good cow flow – factors such as housing, floor surfaces, heifer acclimatisation, heat stress and stockpersonship are extremely important.  A cow needs to spend 12-14h per day lying down, any less than that can significantly increase the risk of lameness.  Can you think of any environmental barriers to this on your farm? Could alterations be made?

Lameness control on a dairy farm can feel overwhelming at times. At Larkmead we are able to help with mobility scoring using ROMS scorers, general lameness control and trimming advice. We can also offer the AHDB Healthy Feet Programme which is an excellent scheme that will help us to assess your main challenges to foot health and provide recommendations accordingly.  For any further information please get in touch and chat to your vet.