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
Hoof trimming as a science has much to learn. But it will take a number of years and a lot of funding before the verdict drops on the best time, way, and frequency to trim for cow hoof health. In the meantime, your hoof trimmer is likely going to keep showing up. Make the most of hoof trimming day by following these tips from Gerard Cramer, DVM, DVSc, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota's School of Veterinary Medicine specializing in hoof health.
1. Collect hoof trimming data accurately
Most dairy producers and hoof trimmers are collecting some sort of data on hoof trimming day, but make sure it's accurate. Not everything is an abscess.
"Most trimmers are recording something, but people in the industry aren't necessarily using the data very effectively," Cramer explained. "We're probably making it too complicated. If we record only white line disease, sole ulcers, digital dermatitis, and maybe thin soles, everything else is important to the cow, but they don't happen often enough to make decisions at the herd level."
2. Use the data collected effectively
Nearly every hoof trimmer collects some data, transferring it to the dairy farm's management team in written or electronic form. What happens next is up to you.
Was it a bad month for feet and legs, or is there something you can correct to make the next trim better?
"It needs to be looked at and analyzed in some form, so it can be monitored like we monitor somatic cell count, disease prevalence, or D.A. incidence," Cramer suggested. "We should be able to say, ‘My incidence of sole ulcers is 3%." We also need a goal for it, like most dairies have a realistic goal for somatic cell count. If I ask dairies today what their goal is for lameness, they struggle with it.
"In an ideal world, I want to be able to walk on a dairy and ask, ‘What's your preg risk goal?" Okay, ‘What's your lameness goal?" and they would quickly turnaround with percentage answers to both questions," Cramer said. "Lameness is going to happen, but we should be working towards a goal."
3. Know the causes of the disease affecting your herd
• Sole ulcers. "If I have a herd with a sole ulcer problem, I basically deal with standing time," Cramer said. "This could include any part of the time budget that includes standing time, focusing on the transition period. It could be heat stress, parlor management, or stall sizing."
• White line disease. If white line is your top issue, flooring is most likely the problem, Cramer said. Watch for cows slipping or areas of uneven flooring. (See sidebar to learn more.)
• Digital dermatitis. Hygiene and foot bathing are the areas to target.
• Thin soles. Thin soles are caused by over-wearing, either by the grinder or by the floor.
4. Prevent lameness to make your next trimming day even better
Actions to prevent lameness include hoof trimming and foot bathing, but are you using a detection mechanism to find lame cows?
"One of the theories on why we have 25% to 30% lameness is because we're not finding the cows soon enough," Cramer explained. "If we decrease the amount of time cows are lame, we'll have less lame cows in the industry, and less severity."
Finding cows early and treating them right away will shorten the duration of disease and limit the probability of relapse. But, often, we wait too long.
"If we treat them, and they don't get better, what's the purpose of trying to treat her if she's not going to improve?" Cramer insisted, "With appropriate trimming and treatment, we can get these cows to recover."
For example, in his graduate level work, Cramer found 10% of cows in herds had sole ulcers, but only 2% of them got blocks from the hoof trimmer.
"But," Cramer noted, "With no proof behind any of the treatments, it makes it really difficult to convince producers that it's worth doing any of the tedious or expensive things they should do."
No data to support any flooring
Despite grooving and milling companies" best efforts to convince producers that their method is the best, no data exists to declare a style winner.
"There are types of flooring from a biological perspective that make sense because the cow slips less," Cramer said, "but there's no data to link that to a lower incidence of white line disease."
Flooring should be built to minimize slip and maximize catch while the cow is walking.
Even rubber is not a sure bet to improve lameness, with some studies saying it has no effect on lameness overall.
• Grooving - Noting there is little data in this area, Cramer would recommend following the guidelines set forth by the University of Wisconsin's Dairyland Initiative, which recommends 3.25" spacing and a 0.75" inch groove.
• Rubber - While cows love walking on it, Cramer sees it as too expensive to put everywhere.
"I don't think they need it on every spot they walk," Cramer explained.
"If a herd is struggling with thin soles due to over-walking, maybe transfer lanes or returns from the parlor would be a great spot for rubber."
Other areas that may see benefit are where cows are forced to stand, including the holding area and parlor, as well as areas where they walk frequently.
"Look at your dairy and ask, do I need to invest in rubber?"