Due to their prevalence and financial impact, foot health and lameness continue to be significant areas of concern for dairy farmers. Specifically in Minnesota, the average lameness occurrence in free stall herds is 24.6% (Endres, 2006) and the economic impact can be seen in multiple areas–from the bulk tank to treatment costs.

To attain the University of Minnesota's suggested guideline of less than 15% clinically lame cows in freestall herds, care should be taken and abatement strategies should be in place. For the most part, dairies have already adopted regular footbath protocols and schedule routine visits with the hoof trimmer. What else is there to your lameness prevention plan? What are you doing to promote good foot health?


Look at your herd

In order to develop a successful plan for reducing the incidences of lameness in your herd, first identify the problem. Locomotion scoring can be a useful tool. This tool evaluates cows on a scale of 1 to 5 during both standing and walking. As illustrated in this table, this method is relatively easy to use. It is important to keep in mind that scoring should be done on a flat surface, and for more effective results, done once monthly and by the same person each time.


Outside the box - develop a plan

Regular passes through the foot bath and visits from a competent hoof trimmer can alleviate and correct a number of disorders. However, issues with foot health and lameness can be derived from a variety of sources and it is important to look at other areas of your operation that impact foot health.

Nutrition is one component of the dairy that can impact foot health and within a cow's diet, carbohydrates, protein, trace minerals and vitamins are all contributing factors. For example, laminitis–an inflammation of tissue within the hoof–is highly correlated with nutrition. Oftentimes, rations that cause acidosis will lead to laminitis, and as a result blood flow to the certain areas of the hoof is interrupted.

To avoid nutrition negatively impacting foot health, it is important to work with your nutritionist to develop a ration that includes balanced levels of rumen fermentable starch, balanced levels of effective fiber, and the avoidance of slug feeding (Hutjens, 2004). These considerations will help maintain a healthy pH level within the rumen. TMR rations should include adequate forage particle size to promote chewing and cudding for saliva production; the bicarbonate in salvia buffers acid in the rumen and prevents against acidosis (Kenyon, School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University)

Cow comfort also has a major impact on and is largely associated with lameness in dairy cattle. Although it is not ideal to remodel or revamp your facilities, it may be necessary to improve cow comfort and decrease lameness in your herd. The following are a few tips to help improve cow comfort in your operation. You can also take the cow comfort self-assessment test at http://z.umn.edu/comfortquiz.

  • Provide enough stall space for cows to lie down and ruminate for 10 to 14 hours each day. Specific dimensions are subject to the size of each cow and simple adjustments to the neck rail and brisket board can result in positive performance. Sore feet can occur if cows are subject to long periods of standing.
  • Soft bedding is key to cow comfort. If you're using sand bedding, be sure it is free of stones and other objects that can penetrate the sole of the hoof.
  • Adding grooves to cement floors, or utilizing rubber flooring or mats in the feed alley might help to improve cow comfort.


Develop a complete plan

As lameness carries a heavy financial impact, it is easy to see that a plan must be in place to combat the problem. Nutrition and cow comfort are outlined in this article; however, it is important to recognize that lameness stems from multiple causes. Continuing to evaluate and determine sources of lameness and foot problems in your herd will allow you to develop a complete abatement plan, reduce incidences and reach or maintain a goal of less than 15% clinically lame cows in your herd.