Getting A Leg Up On Good Herd Management

A good part of William Klok’s day is spent grinding off dead hoof material and applying treatments to a range of foot sores all in a bid to help dairy cows walk with more comfort.

It may not appear like a big deal since most cows he works on are still milking, but that 15 to 30 minutes he spends with each animal is either preventing or treating one of the most common illnesses in North American dairy herds. Lameness ultimately costs dairy producers hundreds of dollars per head per year.

“In some herds as many as 60 to 65 per cent of animals can be affected with some type of lameness or foot problem,” says Klok, who runs his own Klok Hoof Care service at Picture Butte, Alta., just north of Lethbridge. “Now, if you had a herd with 65 per cent of your cows suffering from mastitis or from Johnnes disease you might think it is time to cull the whole herd and start over. But some producers either don’t notice, or just accept that some degree of lameness is just a fact of life. But with proper management and routine hoof care you can eliminate or reduce many of those economic losses.”

$400 LOSS PER HEAD ANNUALLY

Some recent U.S. research shows that, overall, every case of lameness can cost producers as much as $400 per head in all areas of lost production. If you had 25 head in a herd affected each year, that’s a cost of $10,000 annually. That production loss can be obvious in a cow that is hobbling around, or could almost be visually undetected in a relatively mobile animal who has slightly lower milk production, or doesn’t show signs of heat.

Klok, who has been trimming feet and tending to hoof care for six years, grew up on the family dairy farm at Picture Butte. He started learning hoof trimming in their own dairy cattle, later worked for a hoof trimming service and then launched his own service about a year ago. He’s also completed foot care courses at the Dairyland Hoof Care Institute in Wisconsin and at Iowa State University.

“I don’t pretend to be any expert on all the factors that lead to lameness,” he says. “But I do know that if this cow has some degree of soreness in her feet or lameness it is going to affect her milk production and overall performance in the herd.”

CAUSES OF LAMENESS

The causes of lameness in dairy cattle continues to be a major area of research. Herd management and environmental factors are general areas that produce a range of infections, abscesses and lesions. Klok says about 90 per cent of lameness issues he sees, involves the back feet, and of those 90 per cent of the time the outside claw is affected.

A few years ago, diet was suspected as a major contributor to lameness — too much grain in a ration was blamed for causing acidosis which ultimately could lead to laminitis. That does happen, but now dairy experts are looking at other factors, aside from diet, that cause several hoof health problems.

Concrete floors are seen as a major contributor to laminitis and claw disease. The outside claw of the rear feet and inside claws of the front feet are most often affected by laminitis, which is described as a disturbance to the blood flow to the corium, or quick, of the hoof. These circulatory problems can lead to sole and toe ulcers.

Ninety per cent of the time claw horn lesions are found on the outside hind claw. While these

William Klok, (top photo) works on the feet of a southern Alberta dairy cow held in his Comfort Chute. Klok, (bottom left) after cleaning up the hoof applies a topical treatment for a common case of digital dermatitis — hairy heel — and then wraps the foot, (bottom right) with the bandage to be removed in three or four days.

lesions were at one time blamed on ration issues, researchers are now looking at other factors.

Digital dermatitis, also known as hairy heel warts and strawberry foot is one of the most common diseases Klok and dairy researchers see today. It is an infectious disease that can easily spread in a herd. Foot baths and other measures that help keep feet clean appear to help, but there is some evidence it could be linked to immunity issues.

Foot rot is a contagious, infectious disease that is quite common. While this disease is treatable with antibiotics, any measures a farmer can take to keep cattle on clean, dry bedding will help prevent development and spread of the disease.

HOW TO REDUCE LAMENESS

Klok says sometimes small but important changes in management will help reduce many cases of lameness.

A consistent balanced ration is important to prevent energy overloads that can cause metabolic disorders.

Keep alleyways in free stall areas as clean and dry as possible.

Provide good footing in alleyways so cattle aren’t slipping and suffering foot injuries.

Provide adequate and comfortable bedding packs so cattle have a place to lie down, which reduces the amount of standing time on concrete.

Reduce stress in and around the calving period, as stress is a major contributor to lameness.

Regular hoof care service — trimming and inspection — preferably twice a year will help prevent and detect any lameness issues early before they have a major impact on production.

Klok Hoof Care service can be reached at 403-894-9587 or by email at [email protected]

LeeHartiseditorofCattleman’sCornerbased inCalgary.Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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