Gerard Cramer, D.V.M., D.V.Sc.
Gerard Cramer, D.V.M., D.V.Sc.

Part 3 of a 3-part series:

1) Hoof trimming: An art lacking science?

2) Hoof trimming: Make the most of hoof trimming day

3. Hoof trimming: Prevent and treat lameness, with a purpose

As long as there are feet on cows and a surface on which those feet will make contact, cows will slip, fall, be injured and require human care to make them more mobile. It does not matter if they walk on pasture in the “wild,” concrete under cover, or something in-between: a hoof-related injury is always possible.

Knowing that, dairy producers also need strategies on how to deal with this inevitable lameness situation. In previous parts of this series, we explained that hoof trimming has little science at this point (“An art lacking science?” April 2015), and how to capture and use data before, during and after hoof trimming day to reduce the lameness level (“Make the most of trimming day,” May 2015).

But what do we do with injured cows? What’s the best way to get them better, and fast?

A bedded-pack can be a band-aid; a trim can be a solution; and a footbath can prevent lameness. However, there are other options, and they depend on the disease.

Earlier, faster detection

This summer, Gerard Cramer, D.V.M., D.V.Sc., will begin an experiment to detect lame cows while performing other day-to-day herd management chores.

“We need to be able to find these lame cows before we can do something with them,” Cramer said. “Lameness has slowly become normal. In my thesis work, I found 10% of cows had sole ulcers, but only 2% had blocks applied. A sole ulcer will not heal without a block.”

To help identify these cows faster and easier, Cramer’s study will evaluate whether a combination of back arch and weight-shifting while standing could be a good indicator for lameness. Producers could evaluate the herd for trimming while they are locked up for breeding, vaccination, or other protocols.

“What’s typically recommended is locomotion scoring,” Cramer explained.

“But, that’s very labor intensive and not part of a normal management routine.”

If time and labor are both available, lameness scoring done on a weekly basis has been found to cut lameness by two-thirds on some farms, though the costs and benefits are difficult to quantify.

“This evaluation would take a little more time, but not as much as having someone watch cows leave the parlor for the full eight-hour shift,” he continued.

“Back arch isn’t perfect, but if try to get her to change weight on her feet, we may find a good indicator to check for lame cows.”

Quit wrapping

Cramer believes wrapping is an unnecessary evil. He recommends only wrapping in cases of excessive bleeding, and those cases should be minimal.

“I can’t trust anyone to take the wraps off in time,” he said. “Unless you can promise that every wrap will come off a day later – every single one – you’re better off not doing it.”

“The harm from wrapping far outweighs the benefit,” Cramer continued. “We wrap in human medicine because the fabric stays clean and dry. Numerically we can see some cures in cattle, but I don’t think it is worth the risk of crawling under the cow to remove the wrap.”

No product is currently labeled for treating digital dermatitis, so everything you do in that realm is off-label, requiring consultation with your veterinarian.

Cramer feels producers should work with their veterinarian to develop an effective treatment protocol. Wrapping does not have to be part of this protocol, as data has shown cure rates are similar with an antibiotic that is painted on the foot. Things to consider when developing the protocol include amount of drug applied, and risk of milk contamination.

Otherwise, in cases of sole ulcers and white line disease, we really only need to remove the loose horn, and apply some glue and a block. “There’s no need to make the cow bleed,” Cramer said. “If you’re adding a block, the point is to take the pressure off. A wrap isn’t necessary for the vast majority of blocks.”

Extreme situations, extreme measures

The only case where Cramer believes a wrap should always be utilized is following amputation. The surgery might sound gruesome, but it can be justified from both a cost and animal welfare perspective in a small number of lameness cases, he explained.

“Lameness shouldn’t be a reason a cow leaves a dairy,” Cramer said. “For most cows, we can ensure they are saleable and comfortably walk them onto a truck. For those very bad cases, the decision should be euthanasia or surgery. More people should be choosing surgery, because it’s a relatively easy, straight-forward procedure. It seems severe, but we’re creating a healthy, productive animal on the meat or milk side.”

Amputation typically takes out the bones P3 and P2. This removes the infected joint to give the animal a healthy foot to walk on. From the cow’s perspective, you are removing everything causing pain, replacing it with a wound that you wrap to stop bleeding and has the ability to heal.

“If you put that very lame animal on a truck or don’t treat her, you’re prolonging her pain, and giving her a greater chance to go down,” Cramer said. “If we take the claw off, we can manage the short-term pain, and she can go back to being a productive member of the herd.”

If amputation is something you are interested in, work with your veterinarian to choose candidates for the procedure. It is not something to be done in the hoof-trimming chute by a hoof trimmer or farm staff. Cramer uses a nerve block to limit pain during surgery, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) after the fact.

Whether every veterinarian is ready to do the surgery is another story. “There is an apprehension about the procedure,” Cramer said. “But it’s more of a comfort level. The surgery isn’t very technically demanding; there just isn’t a familiarity like there is with a D.A. surgery.”


“Every dairy can and needs to measure something about lameness,” Cramer said. “Whether you’re monitoring the number of new cases, trimming records, or the difference in lesions, find a system you can review, and then do something with it. But the biggest thing is working to detect lameness. That’s a great start.”

The best footbath

Like hoof trimming, there is little data on footbath products. Cramer is comfortable recommending copper sulfate and formalin based on personal experience and history, but cautions farmers to ask for data any time a new product is introduced.

“I care about product, but I care more about footbath design – the product is secondary,” Cramer explained. “Think of footbathing like we do teat-dipping. I think a footbath program and product choice should be farm-dependent, made with your veterinarian.”