This answer was provided by Dan Schimek, dairy nutritionist from Hubbard Feeds in Mankato, Minn.

Q: How can I help my clients manage lameness in winter?

A: It has been a difficult winter for dairy farmers in many parts of the country. Snow in December, along with additional storms and extreme cold temperatures, have left dairy farmers numerous obstacles to deal with.

One of those obstacles is hoof care and lameness. All too often, lameness is an underlying issue robbing dairy farmers of profits. It is estimated that every lame cow on a dairy farm costs between $300 and $400 due to lost production, decreased reproductive efficiency, and cost of treatment.

Research by Nigel Cook at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that January, February and March are the months where lameness caused by infectious lesions is most prevalent. (Please graphic on the following page.) Cook tracked lameness in 10 Wisconsin dairy herds for a 12-month period.

Causes of infectious lameness include heel warts, foot rot, corns, and heel erosion, with the most common being heel warts. Infectious lameness is caused by viral or bacterial agents. Claw horn lesions are another form of lameness, commonly caused by environmental conditions that lead to hoof injuries such as white line disease and ulcers.

Throughout a large portion of the year, infectious causes of lameness are commonly managed with routine cleaning of facilities, as well as the use of well-managed footbaths. Regular trimming, use of dietary additives, and proper nutrition represent other management techniques used by dairy producers to control lameness.

Winter weather conditions often times lead to the following:

  • Decreased foot-bathing.
  • Slippery walking surfaces.
  • Rigid walking surfaces.

Another factor to consider is that frozen conditions experienced in dairy facilities leads to dry cracked skin around cow’s hooves. This, combined with the conditions described above, gives rise to lameness caused by infectious agents.

Here are some recommendations for overcoming winter lameness:

1. Review your use of footbaths during the winter months.

  • Consider using portable footbaths.
  • Remember that formalin solutions lose their effectiveness below 45 degrees F. So, use of an alternative product is necessary in winter months.
  • Position foot baths close to the parlor or in warmer areas to avoid frozen solutions.

2. In freezing and harsh conditions, routine scraping becomes even more important. Rather than decreasing the cleaning schedule, it is vital to maintain or increase efforts during freezing conditions in order to avoid uneven, rigid walking surfaces. Having protocols in place and discussions in advance with employees to enforce this may be necessary.