Hoof Czar Step up detection of lameness

October 12, 2009 07:00 PM

"We need to find lame cows sooner and fix problems faster,”
says Chuck Guard, a veterinarian specializing in hoof care at Cornell University.
In most dairy herds, the actual prevalence of lameness is usually greater, sometimes much greater, than the perceived level of lameness.

This failure to not only detect but also treat lame cows is costing U.S. producers some $350 to $400 per lame cow. That's no small amount—even in good times.

"We need to find lame cows sooner and fix problems faster,” says Chuck Guard, a veterinarian specializing in hoof care at Cornell University.

Locomotion scoring, even if it's done routinely every month, might not be enough, Guard says, "because normal walking cows can have lesions that need treatment.”

One solution is to specifically train one worker to detect lameness. This "hoof czar” should devote part of each day looking for, identifying and treating lameness.

While that might seem like overkill, waiting for a hoof trimmer to come in every two or four weeks is simply gambling with too long of a time interval.

Four recent studies involving 140 herds in the U.S. and Canada found an average prevalence of clinical lameness of 16% to 28%. And for the cows found to be lame, hoof lesions were present in over half of the cases.

As noted above, hoof lesions can also be present in cows that don't exhibit any signs of lameness. That's why all cows need to be trimmed routinely. Guard recommends trimming hooves at five-month intervals, starting at six weeks prior to first calving.

Even then, not all lesions will be detected. "But I think common sense can prevail,” Guard says. "Cows with obvious lameness problems need to be found and dealt with quickly.”

Reducing incidence of lameness should be a dairy's first goal:
  • Feed and feeding management should be rumen-friendly.
  • Minimize standing time by maximizing stall comfort—don't over-crowd, separate first-calf heifers from older cows and minimize the time cows are away from beds.
  • Reduce hoof wear by installing rubber flooring.
  • Reduce infectious causes of lameness through proper animal hygiene and preventive foot baths.


The last thing you want to do when trimming hooves of lame cows, or any cow for that matter, is to create new injuries during the process.

So design treatment areas that minimize animal stress and use restraints that have less chance of injuring animals, says Jan Shearer, a hoof care veterinarian at Iowa State University.

"Trimming personnel should be able to move cows in and out of chutes with little or no prodding,” he says. "Curved entry lanes with blocked views allow for easier animal movement.”

Also provide padding on the chute's neck catch. If animals spook and slam into an unpadded catch, they can be temporarily, even permanently, paralyzed by damage to nerves in the shoulder.

"Ropes or belts are more comfortable and less abrasive than chains for securing legs on hoof trimming tables,” Shearer adds.

Bonus content:

Spanish version

Maximizing comfort for uncomfortable cows, p. 132

Lameness detection tools

More lameness resources

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