Any good detective knows that clues are essential to solving a mystery. Finding those clues requires that you search, then analyze the information you collect. For your management team, hoof health records provide clues to help solve a variety of health, nutritional and management problems that affect lameness and production.

"With the ever-increasing size of dairy herds, it is imperative to have excellent hoof health records," says Karl Burgi, a professional hoof trimmer in Baraboo, Wis. "Good record-keeping provides the farm consulting team with the essential information to keep lameness under control. These records provide information to detect lameness outbreaks quickly, investigate lameness trends, communicate hoof health trends effectively, and aid with the day-to-day hoof health management."

With dairy replacements costing between $1,500 to $1,800 or more, good records help in fine-tuning management, setting up hoof maintenance schedules, and dealing with problems or high-maintenance cows, says Burgi.

"Lameness is still at very high levels in many dairy herds, and it is because many producers or hoof trimmers make fashionable diagnoses," adds Burgi. "Many times, because of poor or no record-keeping, lameness is not treated or prevented in the correct way. How can you solve a problem if you don't know what you are dealing with?"
Time commitment

While keeping hoof health records can be time consuming, entering the data in a timely manner and using computers helps speed the process. That extra effort up-front actually speeds the diagnosis process when a problem occurs.

"We, as veterinarians, encourage a lot of farmers that use computerized record systems to enter that individual cow data into the cow records following the hoof trimmer's visit and after the lame cow work they do in between hoof trimmer visits," says Chuck Guard, professor in the Ambulatory and Production Medicine Clinic at Cornell University.

Not having that information makes determining the cause of lameness problems more difficult. Guard remembers a farm that he visited. It was well organized and well managed, making money with new facilities. However, they couldn't find the cause of lameness in the herd. "The only way I could figure out what the magnitude of the problem was, besides them saying it was "horrible," was to get their bill slips out and figure how many hoof blocks they bought month by month. That was the extent of the records they had available."

Your hoof trimmer and veterinarian can work with you to determine a record-keeping system. Most hoof trimmers are aware of the value of keeping hoof health records, but may not take the time to record lesions because it is a time-consuming task, so you have to ask. Also, the language used to describe hoof problems varies among hoof trimmers and veterinarians. Currently, the Hoof Trimmers Association and the American Association of Bovine Practitioners are working to develop a standardized system. Until then, try to get your hoof trimmer and veterinarian to develop common descriptions.
Determine the cause

When Guard looks for lameness causes, he puts all infectious problems in one basket and all of the other laminitis problems in another. "We need to know what problems the cows have in order to decide which of those two things needs attention."

Once that determination is made, it is easier to fix problems. By keeping records of symptoms and when they occur for each animal, a veterinarian can come in and determine what the likely culprit is for lameness in a herd, whether it is a few animals or many.

"What I tell farmers is that lesions usually look the same regardless of the cause," says Kent Hoblet, extension veterinarian at Ohio State University. "There are multiple causes for sole ulcers or white line disease. But, if you find those lesions, then you need to tie that back to when they occurred and what were you doing with the herd. And that can point to something that needs correction or attention."

If you do find a lot of infectious lameness problems in early-lactation cows, Guard says it is likely an indication of management problems in the dry cows. "A lot of people put foot baths outside the parlor for their milking cows, but the dry cows aren't receiving anything. So, the dry cows have a couple of months to accumulate problems that might not be recognized until the cows are milking."

Look for management shortfalls

"Management is a huge subject; it could be anything from housing to floor surfaces to manure management," says Hoblet. But, knowing a little about when problems began, a veterinarian can look back at production procedures that may have caused the initial insult.

"There's a lag time between the insult and when the lameness occurs," says Guard. "It is usually pretty short for abscesses - a couple of weeks to a month - but longer for ulcers - probably six to 10 weeks." The answer lies in the details. "If the records only say an animal is lame, then you can't go anywhere and we don't know why we have the problem."

Examine heifers

More clues to problems can be found in the younger members of a herd. "One thing I find interesting when I go on farms, is that when we find a lot of hoof problems in the adult herd, we can usually look at the growing heifers to find indications of a problem," says Hoblet. "We've found experimentally in other situations, heifers as young as four or five months of age having hemorrhages or white line problems."

For instance, he says, it is extremely uncommon to find multiple first-calf heifers in the dairy herd with sole ulcers. So, if you find many heifers with sole ulcers, that means you probably have a problem with feeding or management of those animals in terms of their introduction to concrete or grouping strategies.

Take action

Efficient records also give signals as to the effectiveness of management or feeding changes. This helps your dairy management team, including the veterinarian and nutritionist, determine whether or not more changes need to occur.

"Most of the dairy herds that I provide a hoof care service for are on a hoof maintenance program," says Burgi. "Under this program, all cows are trimmed three to six weeks prior to calving, at 100 days of lactation and every 120 to 140 days thereafter." At that time, Burgi records lesions and their severity. Problem cows are recorded for the purpose of scheduling follow-up treatments or trimming. "When a change in hoof health occurs in these herds, all lesions are recorded so the farm consulting team has up-to-date problem-solving information."

What to include in hoof health records

1. Individual animal affected
2. What are the specific symptoms
3. When the problem occurred
4. Action taken