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Assessing And Maintaing Hoof Health

Lameness takes a huge economic toll on the dairy industry. An ongoing research project, spearheaded by Alberta dairy producers and processors, is looking to find out what causes lameness in dairy cattle and then come up with management recommendations on how to reduce the instances of lameness.

The Alberta Dairy Hoof Health Project, ( www.hoofhealth.ca) started with a brainstorming session in late 2008 and is just really getting into its second full year of operation, says Steve Mason, a private dairy consultant based in Calgary, who is acting as research associate for the project.

One of the first objectives, working with dairy producers and their hoof trimmers, is to get a handle on what type and what frequency of lameness dairy farmers are seeing in their cattle. Another phase involves getting research students out on participating farms to observe what management factors are contributing to lameness.

RESEARCHING CAUSES

“Ultimately the goal is to identify then reduce the causes of lameness and provide producers with risk factors and management options for reducing lameness,” says Mason. “There have been a lot of bits and pieces of research over the years and there have been some assumptions, but we really don’t have a good handle on what causes it. So this is what we are attempting to find out.”

A series of hoof health clinics are being planned in Alberta in 2011, to help farmers better understand the importance of the cow’s feet and the value of proper leg, foot and hoof care.

The hoof health project is lead by Alberta Milk, the organization that represents the 618 dairy producers in the province, but it is also working with a number of other agencies and organizations across the country to see what can be learned about lameness.

Alberta Milk itself has put about $350,000 into the ongoing study, the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency has contributed another $150,000, the Dairy Farmers of Canada have contributed to the project since it ties in well with their efforts to improve animal welfare. Agriculture Canada at Agassiz, B.C. is involved, the University of Guelph, Laval University in Quebec, and quite recently the B.C. Dairy Producers have expressed interest in doing something similar in B.C. so that may also tie into this Alberta project.

COLLECTING DATA

To get a handle on the scope of lameness issues, the hoof health project is working with a number of Alberta hoof trimmers to collect data on the type of lameness issues and frequency they see on dairy farms. Alberta Milk assisted seven trimmers in buying laptop computers and software called Hoof Supervisor which can be used right at the chute to record treatment information. Since 2009 the project has collected data on more than 20,000 individual cows from 100 participating herds. That data collection is ongoing until 2012.

Another phase of the project involves working with the Dairy Farmers of Canada and various universities in looking at lameness as part of the whole animal welfare issue, and still another phase of the project is to carry the extension message to producers, through tools such as the hoof care clinics.

“We need to be able to answer some basic questions like whether sole ulcers more common in heifers or older cows,” says Mason. “Are they more prevalent in early lactation or late lactation. We need to find out those answers and then be able to come up with management prescriptions.

“We know that first lactation heifers are at greater risk of lameness when mixed in with mature cows because they have to compete for bunk space — the whole socializing thing — so we need to outline management options about providing adequate bunk space. Those are just a couple examples. ”

There is a lot of good information on hoof health care and lameness available on the Alberta Dairy Hoof Health Project website at www.hoofhealth.ca

LeeHartiseditorofCattleman’sCorner basedinCalgary.Contacthimat403-592- 1964orbyemailat [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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