Minimizing lameness in dairy herds with regular hoof trimming 

Proper hoof care helps to prevent lameness in dairy cattle and ultimately positively impacts a producer’s bottom line. Cattle suffering from feet problems are less productive in the milk barn compared to their sure-footed counterparts. In the case of a dairy cow’s hoof health, being pro-active pays off far more than being reactive. “Like anything, prevention is always better than a cure,” Dr. Scott Poock, DVM, University of Missouri Extension Veterinarian, said. 

Regular Maintenance

Livestock extension specialists recommend dairy producers create a hoof trimming schedule for their herds in order to reap the maximum benefits of proper hoof care. “The advantage to foot trimming comes when you are doing maintenance trimming,” Poock explained. Following a trimming schedule reduces the number of trimmings needed due to lameness. 

Historically, most dairy producers operated with the management practice of all cows getting a hoof trim at dry-off. But that protocol is changing to a twice a year maintenance trimming schedule. “Today what we find with the really progressive herds is they will do a maintenance trim at mid-lactation and at dry off,” Poock said. “If you have a maintenance schedule you have to trim a lot fewer lame cows.” 

Corrective Trimming

During the scheduled hoof trimming sessions, most cattle typically receive some level of maintenance trimming, not just the cattle with obvious feet problems. There are times outside of the scheduled trimming timeframes in which cattle may need their feet trimmed. The pain associated with some diseases, such as digital dermatitis (hairy heel warts), can be eased with hoof trimming. Corrective foot trimming can be employed when an animal displays signs of lameness. 

 Regardless of whether it is a maintenance or corrective trim needed, extension specialists recommend producers hire an experienced hoof trimmer to perform the work. Confer with the hoof trimmer to determine the criteria used to determine if and how much to trim the hooves. Over-trimming of a hoof can cause structural stability issues which can lead to pain and lameness.

Genetic Component

Due to the advancements in genetics and data, producers can now make breeding selections and decisions with hoof shape and foot quality as key factors. “The great thing about doing genomics and genetic testing is we now have information to look at and say which cows are going to be the healthiest, which cows are going to have less lameness, which cows are going to have less mastitis, which cows are more likely to get pregnant,” Poock stated. “So, the dairy industry is using that data now. At the University of Missouri Foremost Dairy, we use that information when we are picking up bulls and deciding which bulls to use. We are breeding for a healthier cow.” 

When looking at the reasons why a cow will leave a dairy the three most common causes are reproduction, mastitis and lameness. Producers who incorporate genetic influence, management strategies and prevention measures will be ahead of the game of maintaining a healthy herd. 


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