Good quality horn and shape: The goal of this success factor is to maximize the resistance of the hoof to trauma. The main areas to consider in this factor are proper hoof trimming and feeding management. Hoof trimming plays an important preventative role in maintaining foot health. In most of our current housing environments an imbalance is created between horn growth and wear. Preventative hoof trimming attempts to remove the excessive growth and redistribute the forces that occur within a cow's foot to avoid excessive pressure on the sole ulcer location.
Traditionally, nutritional factors and nutritionists have received a lot of the blame for lameness problems in our herds. Rather than focussing on the paper ration and specific nutrient levels, the focus should be on factors that affect intake patterns such as usable bunk space, forage quality and consistency, timing of ration delivery and behavioral factors. Changes in intake patterns have the potential to disrupt a cow's metabolic status and when combined with an environment that increases her standing time, this can lead to lameness. The exact role of metabolic incidents and their relationship to lameness is still unclear. However, there is mounting evidence that what occurs in the transition period has a big effect on lameness. Factors such as time spent standing and amount of fat mobilization that occurs during the transition period are key areas of focus.
Low forces on the feet: The focus of this success factor is to create a comfortable environment for cows to stand and lie down in addition to appropriate flooring and traction in traffic areas. This focus strives to minimize internal and external trauma to the hoof. Any change made to the cow's environment to reduce standing time is going to result in less sole ulcers and white line disease as it removes weight bearing from the horn producing tissue. A deep bedded stall is a great start to reducing standing time but the focus of cow comfort needs to include all areas of the cow's environment including flooring, heat abatement, etc. An evaluation of cow comfort should always determine the time a cow has available for lying down.
Currently, the knowledge exists to prevent lameness from becoming a major animal welfare issue. However, implementation of this knowledge requires a concerted effort to develop farm specific foot health programs. The keys of this program are to combine the data from lesion records with the four success factors to create a focussed plan.