Good hoof health fundamentals

Carole Curtis
Understanding lameness and knowing how to prevent it is a critical component of a dairy's success.

JUNEAU - From hoof trimming assessments to effective hoof bath programs, dairy farmers have a number of tools they can use to sideline lameness in their cattle.

During  "These Hooves Are Made For Walking", a two-part World Class Webinar being presented by Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Karl Burgi, dairy hoof health consultant and owner of Hoof Care, detailed an action plan that dairy farmers can use to reduce lameness, benefit cattle welfare, and improve their farm's bottom line.

Success keys off the use of better practice management tools and taking prompt, effective action.

Target the three types of lesions and enhance animal welfare with a "no lameness tolerance" policy, Burgi advised. "The earlier that sole ulcers and white line lesions are diagnosed and treated, the earlier the cow recovers," he explained.

Digital dermatitis, or hairy warts, must also be treated at the earliest possible time.

"When treated early and properly, there is a lot less recurrence," Burgi said.

The bottom line is cows should never wait to be treated for lameness.

"Lameness should be treated on a daily basis," Burgi stressed.

Trimming traumas

Hoof trimming accountability is another critical element. A hoof trimmer should not be earning his pay based on the amount of hoof chips on the barn floor, Burgi said.

Cows are "toe" animals, meaning they walk on their area of strength, their toes. As the toe grows, a cow's weight shifts to the rear of her hoof, which causes bruising and hemorrhaging and results in a sole ulcer.

Although trimming is required, excessive trimming is problematic. A dairy cow's toes should never be left too long or trimmed too short, and the soles should never be allowed to get too thin.

"You should never see white feet. That's over-trimmed," Burgi said.

Studies show 1/4 inch of sole is necessary for the hoof to stay healthy. Leaving less leads to more lameness.

One of the biggest problems Burgi has found in large dairies is excessive wear.

"If heifers do not have enough sole, their bone structure doesn't completely develop," he noted.

Another issue is excessive removal of the outside of wall, which Burgi equated to taking all the posts out of a wall because they were in the way.

"The wall is the supporting edge of the claw. It should never be removed, except when the cow was lame and a block is applied", he said.

Too often, Burgi sees removal of the inside wall at the toe, done by trimming between the toes with the grinder. However, recent studies show the practice causes permanent damage.

"This is a pink slip for me," he said.

The industry measuring stick should not be how many cows a hoof trimmer can do a day, Burgi said, but are we preventing or causing lameness by trimming, and are lame cows recovering following therapeutic hoof trimming? Do cows become lame and stay lame?

"Low lameness levels result from good hoof trimming," he emphasized.

To help decipher the cause of lameness, check off if the dairy has an effective hoof bath, secure footing and is not overstocking animals. If the cows are laying down 12+ hours a day, are out of their pen less than 2.5 hours a day, and crowd gates are not being overused, Burgi reasoned hoof trimming may be the problem.

Trimming tips and timing

Burgi laid out a timeline and underscored the importance of trimming springing heifers.

Ninety-five percent of claw lesions occur on the rear outside claws, which take more abuse than the inside claw. Functional hoof trimming can reestablish healthy claw function.

When trimming springing heifers, more modeling of the outside hind claws will reduce lameness in first lactation animals. Modeling is critically important, Burgi explained, since animals raised in freestalls tend to have a lot of overgrowth.

"If you don't remove it, she can have her first lesion in her first lactation," he said.

Every dry cow and every springing heifer should be assessed and functionally trimmed between eight and three weeks prior to calving.

Perform one or two lactation assessments and trim only as needed.

Burgi advised trimming first lactation cows at 125 days after calving. Trim second+ lactation cows at 80 DIM for mattress and organically bedded barns, and 125 DIM for sand farms. Trim all cows every 120 - 150 days thereafter.

Chronically lame cows require special operating procedures (SOPs). The rear feet of cows in this category should be checked three to six additional times per year to make sure they are not overgrown and are in good shape.

"Be proactive, rather than waiting until she is lame," Burgi advised.

Integrated approach

Focus on hoof health with a multifaceted approach, Burgi recommended. That includes close observation of heifers as soon as they come into the herd. Treat any lesion promptly. Insist on excellent hygiene and a low stress environment, and use effective footbaths to prevent and combat lesions.

The PDPW series will continue on Nov. 22 with Dr. Nigel Cook and "Simplifying Hoof Health From Day One".

For more information or to register for the webinar, contact PDPW at 800-947-7379 or online at