Dairy School: Designing a hoof health program for your herd

Lameness is the dairy industry’s leading and most visible animal welfare concern. It’s also among the top three health challenges, along with mastitis and reproductive problems.

Veterinarian Dr. Laura Solano, dairy cattle extension specialist at Calgary, Alberta-based Farm Animal Care Associates, says that despite the negative impacts to lameness, studies show that 15 to 30 percent of dairy cows housed in free-stall barns in North America are assessed as mildly to severely lame.

At the 2019 Western Canadian Dairy Seminar in Red Deer, AB, Solano discussed the lack of progress Canadian dairy farmers have made in reducing lameness in their herds and outlined key steps in implementing an effective dairy herd hoof health program. On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Dairy School, Solano tells Bernard Tobin the first step in the protocol is to determine the nature and magnitude of the lameness issue and the specific lesions or injuries contributing to the problem. (Story continues after the vide0.)

Another key aspect of a successful hoof health program is timely identification, treatment and follow-up of new lameness cases to prevent them from becoming chronic. Other required practices include an effective hoof trimming program, infection control, transition cow management and cow comfort.

Solano notes that breaking a lameness problem into smaller parts and focusing on the main issue, whether it be infectious or non-infectious, will make the management task less onerous. She adds that a structured, integrated team approach is of great value, but farmer buy-in is essential. “Advisors need to be active listeners and understand farmer motivation to be able to develop an actionable and feasible hoof health program,” says Solano.

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