When it comes to hoof health, there are many factors that go into making sure your cows have healthy hooves. Many of these get overlooked, as they may seem trivial, but are all important to keep hooves healthy.

Cow comfort

If cows are comfortable, they will lie down and get off their feet. If they are uncomfortable, they will remain on their feet, which puts additional stress on the hoof. Having comfortable, properly sized stalls is very important. If the stall is too small or uncomfortable, the cow will choose not to lie down and relax. Additionally, airflow is important for the purpose of providing ventilation and fresh air. Proper airflow will control moisture produced by the cows as well as remove odors and gases from the barn.

Reduce stress

Improper animal handling and an intense barn environment can elevate stress levels. Ensure farm employees are properly trained on cow handling and that the barn environment is properly maintained. When employees are properly trained, they will know how to handle cows to keep them calm and avoid sudden movements which can cause hoof damage. Also, flooring impacts the stress of the cows. An uneven or broken surface, or floors that are too slippery or too coarse, can cause cows to be off-balance while walking, which leads to additional stress.

Footbath/hoof care

Having a foot care routine is important. If you run a footbath, you need to make sure you are using it frequently. If you do not have a footbath, it is recommended to use a topical spray or foam with regular use. Consistently using a footbath or topical applicator will help reduce the chance for a digital dermatitis breakout, especially if you are using a proper additive. Using hand soap or rock salt can help clean manure off a cow’s leg, but it does not aid in reducing digital dermatitis-causing organisms

Hoof trimming

Routine hoof trimming is important. This allows a hoof trimmer to inspect hooves for any issues and helps rebalance hooves and prevent excessive wear. If any issues are discovered during the inspection, they can be treated right away.

Recognize and treat lameness

It is important to recognize when lameness is present, identify the root cause and treat it. Research shows lameness reduces productivity at peak yield by up to 20%, at an estimated cost of $350 per case. There is money to be made by tending to lameness issues when they first emerge.  

By definition, lameness is any abnormality that causes a cow’s gait to change. However, within this broad term are very specific types of hoof lesions and injuries, and each requires specialized treatment for the best recovery opportunity.

There are several causes of lameness found on a dairy farm. They range from biomechanical injuries to infections to injuries and more. That is why it is important to identify and differentiate between the causes of lameness, as the control and treatment methods for each cause will differ. For example, the protocol used for sole ulcers differs from a protocol for digital dermatitis (hairy warts).

Once a dairy producer is aware of the lameness presence in the herd, the next step is to understand what is triggering the hoof health challenge. As previously stated, there are multiple sources of lameness, with the main causes being:

  1. Non-infectious injuries: An overgrowth that does cause pain. Cows may have overstretched ligaments or toes, which leads to ulcers and heel cracks.
  2. Infectious lesions: Most commonly, digital dermatitis or foot rot.
  3. Upper or non-hoof injuries: A stifle injury can cause the cow to go lame, but it’s not a foot injury. It’s simply an injury.

The chart describes several of the main types of lameness, as well as characteristics, treatment and prevention methods for each ailment (see Labeling Lameness chart).

what causes lameness in cows

Click here to view it at full size and in an new window.

These are not the only causes of lameness but the ones that occur most on dairies. Dietary issues, respiratory infections and improper stall size can also lead to lameness. If you cannot detect the cause right away, it is best practice to get a vet or hoof trimmer on-site as soon as possible. They will then be able to inspect the herd and instruct on the best treatment method.

In a perfect world, a preventative plan is in place on the farm to reduce the chances of lameness and save the farm money long term. With proper preventative measures, lost milk production can be avoided, the spread of infectious diseases can come to a halt, and money is saved without the need for an emergency vet or hoof trimmer visit.

An ideal preventative plan includes:

1. Proper and regular hoof trimmings to ensure good shape and overall health. This helps reduce biomechanical issues and injuries.

2. Consistent footbath routine or a proper topical spray/foam routine to prevent foot rot and digital dermatitis.

3. Ensure farm employees are properly trained on cow handling and that the barn and environment are properly maintained.

If a farm has a preventative plan in place and follows it, most lameness issues should remain minimal. Occasionally, a few in the herd may show signs of lameness no matter how perfect the preventative plan. Take action right away at the onset of lameness symptoms, before it spreads. Ask for help from a dairy specialist to create a proper preventative plan.

One last thing we want to understand is the economics of lameness. Research shows lameness reduces productivity at peak yield by up to 20 percent, at an estimated cost of $350 per case. There is money to be made by tending to lameness issues when they first emerge. On an average well-run farm with timely intervention, preventative care will make the dairy considerable dollars. Trained trimmers with the correct equipment make a difference. The safe and timely intervention will take care of your cows.

*Article originally appeared in Progressive Dairyman

Footbaths have become a staple in dairy operations looking to treat or prevent infectious hoof diseases. But when a footbath becomes dirty or diluted, it provides no benefit and may even create additional problems. Some producers have incorporated a pre-wash into their hoof hygiene program; others aren’t sure they’re worth the time and trouble. Here are some of the most common questions regarding the use of a pre-wash in a hoof health protocol.

1. What is the purpose of a pre-wash?

A pre-wash is used primarily to minimize manure contamination of the footbath in cows with poor leg hygiene. This may help the footbath remain active longer because there is less organic matter to neutralize the cleaning agents.

2. Where should the pre-wash be located in relation to the footbath?

A pre-wash is most effective when it is located at least six to ten feet from the footbath, and is placed in the return lane at least two-thirds of the way down from the milking parlor.

3. What are the components of a pre-wash?

Some hoof experts believe a pre-wash should be just water. Others favor a soap-and-water mixture. If using a soap-and-water mixture, use one pint of dishwashing soap to every 25 gallons of water. Care must be taken to prevent slippery conditions for cows.

4. How frequently should a pre-wash be changed?

Depending on the cleanliness of the environment, a pre-wash may need to be changed at least as frequently, if not more so, than the footbath itself. While some operations with excellent leg hygiene may only need to run a pre-wash and footbath once a week, others may need to use it every day. According to University of Vermont researchers, footbath agents such as copper sulfate and formaldehyde should be changed every 120 to 200 cow passes.

5. Why would someone not use a pre-wash?

Space may be an issue, as there might not be enough room near the footbath to accumulate a pre-wash. Water may end up diluting the treatment chemicals in the footbath, requiring the footbath to be changed more frequently. Once the cow reaches the footbath, her hoof skin may not absorb the treatment solutions as readily as when it is wet. Using a pre-wash may contribute to water that will accumulate in the manure lagoon. Research also indicates that when a pre-wash is used, a cow may be up to four times more likely to urinate and defecate in the footbath, thus rendering it ineffective.

6. How does the use of chemical footbath additives impact the need for a pre-wash?

In dairies that use copper sulfate footbaths, adding chemicals that increase the potency of copper sulfate may reduce or even eliminate the need for a pre-wash altogether.

Organic matter such as manure and urine generates hydroxide ions that bind to – and neutralize — copper ions in the footbath. Chemical additives interrupt this process by binding to the hydroxide ions, leaving fewer of them available to bind to copper ions. More copper ions are therefore available for killing pathogens and promoting hoof hardness, significantly extending the life of the footbath – with or without a pre-wash.

Footbath additives are available in liquid, dry or concentrate forms, but all essentially do the same thing: allow the producer to achieve the same level of activity with substantially less copper. Some producers have been able to reduce copper usage by up to 80 percent when using a chemical additive in their footbath program. Secondary benefits include reducing copper loading on land, reducing the cost of the footbath program, minimizing corrosion issues caused by copper sulfate, and improving the overall safety of the footbath. If using a copper extending additive it’s important to use one that is properly buffered to reduce corrosive effects to skin and concrete.

Producers who like the idea of a pre-wash for hygiene reasons will find the use of a pre-wash in conjunction with a chemical additive further extends the life of their footbath. Those who prefer not to go to the trouble and expense of a pre-wash will appreciate the ability of an additive to keep right on working even in the presence of organic matter.

Because environmental conditions vary widely from herd to herd, always consult your hoof trimmer or veterinarian before making any changes to your hoof care protocol.

This article by Dale Baker appeared in the April 2014 issue of DairyBusiness East.

Nearly every dairy in the US has an issue with digital dermatitis at one point or another. What are you doing to control it?

With winter right around the corner, you will have a real headache on your hands if you don’t have your hoof care under control.

Dropping temperatures and increased precipitation can wreak havoc on your herd and their hooves. Frozen and uneven ground, freezing footbaths and cold and wet surfaces are just the beginning of the obstacles you may face this winter. You need to be ready for these harsh conditions, and the best way to prepare is consistent hoof care ALL year long.

Freezing Temperatures & Footbaths

During a hard freeze it can be extremely dangerous to run a footbath. As the cows walk through the footbath they splash water out, creating a skating rink outside of the footbath and posing a slipping hazard for the other animals. It may be necessary to temporarily discontinue footbaths during extreme temperatures.

If a footbath is used during the winter, special precautions must be taken.  Many dairies use a Footbath Dosing System for automation. If you do opt for a system, the lines should be insulated or after use, the lines should be blown out to remove the water to prevent freezing. Positioning the footbath near the parlor or in warmer areas can also help to minimize freezing.

If you must suspend your footbath program during a winter freeze, we recommend using HEALMAX® spray or HEALMAX® foam as a preventative and treatment.

Increased Moisture

With the winter months, often comes snow, sleet and rain. The added moisture can create a soft horn and soft tissue leaving the hoof more vulnerable to bacteria and infection.

It is important to maintain a health hoof protocol especially when the risk for infection increases. Again, we recommend a regular footbath routine and when the footbath can’t be run, use topical treatments to maintain hoof health.

It’s important to assess what your lesions are, then you can determine protocol and decide what products are needed. Formaldehyde loses effectiveness below 45 degrees Fahrenheit and should not be used in winter months. For extreme cold temperatures, HEALMAX® Footbath outlasts formaldehyde every time.

Also, you don’t want to store your chemicals outside, it’s always a good idea to keep them inside when possible. And if you can’t keep them inside, purchase a thermal jacket for protection against the elements.

Cow manure can freeze and create uneven walking surfaces, so scraping and proper hygiene become even more important in the colder temperatures. Avoid rigid and uneven surfaces with consistent cleaning and make sure your employees understand the importance of clear walkways.

In addition, return alleys become slippery with icy walkways, and it’s important to scrape those too, keeping the walkways as safe as possible.

In Conclusion
The best way to maintain healthy hooves is to practice a consistent hoof health routine. In high moisture areas, it is important to keep the hooves as clean and dry as possible. As always, proper hygiene and nutrition are critical for overall animal health. We can’t stress consistency, consistency, consistency enough when it comes to your hoof health protocol and hygiene routine.

We all know that routine checks and hoof trimming can help to prevent lameness on your dairy. We recently sat down with Chip Hendrickson, our hoof care expert, to ask him some important questions on hoof trimming and timing.

 How often should I be trimming my herd?

There is a significant difference between hoof-checking your herd and hoof-trimming your herd. We recommend checking every cow in your herd twice a year. If Digital Dermatitis, foot rot or heel erosion are ongoing issues, you will need to increase the frequency your hoof care routine. Trimming is only needed if there is overgrowth and should be done as needed.

Is hoof trimming necessary?

The simple answer is YES! The whole idea behind consistent hoof trimming is to keep your cows balanced as much as possible. Trimming keeps your cows balanced to bear weight on all claws evenly. When the weight is evenly distributed, your cows will be more comfortable, and comfortable cows produce more milk.

Do I need a hoof inspection or hoof trimming?

There is a difference between hoof inspections and hoof trimming. You should have your herd inspected at least 2 times each year. Trimmings are only necessary when there is overgrowth.

Does every claw need to be trimmed?

No, not necessarily. Every cow will be different. You may not trim something off every claw; only those claws that need trimming should be trimmed.

How could I find a good hoof trimmer?

You will want to find a quality hoof trimmer to ensure the hoof health on your dairy. Talk to other dairymen, area veterinarians and nutritionists and see who they recommend. Another resource is the Hoof Trimmers Association where you can search for a trimmer in your area. Once you have some recommendations, do your research. Check their background and coursework and see if they are still currently in continuing education courses.

Footbath concentrates like HealMax and HoofMax from AgroChem are designed to obtain results and promote hoof health for reduced risk of disease and lameness. HealMax remains effective in higher temperatures and won’t flash-off like formaldehyde. HoofMax optimizes footbaths based on copper or zinc sulfate to achieve good control with less heavy metals and expense.

Footbaths are an essential part of your hoof care routine to prevent lameness and disease.  It is important to use footbaths for the prevention AND treatment of hoof problems. Far too often, we see dairymen initiate a footbath routine only after an outbreak has occurred.

If implemented properly, a consistent footbath routine will be one of the best things you can do for your herd’s hoof health and your milk production. Here are the top 3 mistakes to avoid on your dairy.

1. Human Error

We all make mistakes, after all, we are only human. Often, we see different people running footbaths using inconsistent approaches. When different people are giving footbaths on different days, mistakes can be made. Even if the same person does the footbath routine, human error can and often does occur.

It’s important to mix the accurate amount of water to the proper concentrate to provide an effective and safe footbath for your herd. Always be consistent and carefully follow the label instructions. If too much footbath solution is used, it could be dangerous for your herd. If too much water is used, your footbath will not be strong enough to kill the bacteria.

If you’re looking for a better way to run a consistent footbath routine, consider a footbath dosing system. It automates your footbath program and provides the accurate amount of water and concentrate every single time.

If a footbath dosing system isn’t for you, please don’t allow an inexperienced employee run your footbaths! There is too much at stake. Always try to have an experienced staff member draw your footbaths. And while it isn’t ideal to have multiple people running your footbaths, you should train more than just one person; this way you’re always covered if someone’s sick or out of work.

     2. Improper Footbath Size

It’s imperative to have the proper sized footbath for number of cows passing through. This will depend on the number of cows you have on your dairy and whether you are looking for a replenishing system or a conventional system. We have outlined the guidelines for both methods below:

Replenishing System:
Ideal for dairies over 1000+ cows
Size: Up to 8’ footbath works best
Sides should be 6-8” high

Replenishing systems reduce overall costs and use less product resulting in huge reductions in cost per cow pass and they are typically less expensive to run than using formaldehyde alone.  In addition, manual labor demand is reduced it can be set up to turn on automatically.

Conventional System:
Good for approximately 200 cow passes before changing
Size: There is no one size solution for a conventional system.
Product/Water Level: Keep footbath depth 3 ½”-4”

3. Lack of consistency

Many times, we see dairymen only use footbaths as a treatment after the herd has been struck with digital dermatitis. Really, a footbath should be used as a preventative method to avoid any outbreaks.

On an average dairy farm, footbaths should be run a minimum of 3 days a week and more frequently if there are existing hygiene issues. If you use manure solids or reused solid beds; footbaths will be needed more frequently. The hot summer months will also require more footbaths as sprinklers (if used) create damp conditions and could lead to potential problems.

Footbaths will always be a critical part of your hygiene routine. While there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to your footbath routine, you will need to do what is best to maintain the health of your herd. If you don’t already have one, find yourself a qualified and experienced hoof trimmer; they’ll be your best line of defense to prevent disease and keep your herd as healthy and as comfortable as possible.

Building a new barn can be an exciting experience. However, don’t overlook the importance of hoof health in design and materials.

Poor stall design can increase the amount of standing time for the cow, leading to an increase in the risk of lameness or hoof problems. Stall surface options, such as sand or mattress beds, are another design choice that impact hoof health. Studies have found a lower incidence of lameness in barns that use deep sand bedding. For barns using mattress beds, lameness can be reduced when following the following practices: observing cows to measure locomotion, moving lame cows to a dedicated area near the milking parlor, timely hoof trimming, avoiding overstocking, reducing lock-up time and allowing lame cows to spend less time on their feet.

Footbath placement is an additional consideration when designing a barn. One way to ensure that all cows visit a footbath once a day is by placing it in the milking parlor exit lanes. Footbath frequencyand size vary for each farm, but the recommended size for a footbath is at least 10 feet long, and usually cows go through it at least once a week.

Daily barn maintenance is a practice that continues long after a new barn is completed, but if it falls to the wayside, hooves can be affected. Wet, slippery, over-crowded alleys and pens increase the potential for physical injury, and expose hooves to bacteria-laden waste and water. Ensure that alley scrapers are running on a normal schedule and that cows have a chance to spread out in the barn to reduce over-crowding.

Regardless of barn design, quality hoof care products are essential for keeping cows healthy and mobile. Additives such as HealMax and HoofMax by AgroChem can reduce footbath costs and help manage hoof diseases such as hairy heel wartsHealMax is available in a foam, spray and footbath concentrate formulation; a new formulation is now available with a small, effective amount of copper. HoofMax is a footbath additive that can increase the potency of copper or zinc sulfate for healthier hooves with more cow passes per footbath, less labor and waste, and reduced copper loading on land. DuraHoof is an all-in-one pre-mixed additive that contains just the right amount of HoofMax, and copper and cleaning agents for economical hoof care.

For more information about barn design and its effect on hoof health, talk to your veterinarian or hoof trimmer.

Much of this information was sourced from Greg Blonde, University of Wisconsin-Extension https://fyi.uwex.edu/dairy/files/2016/11/Hoof-Health-Housing-Factsheet-Blonde-2.pdf

A lame cow is an economic liability on a dairy farm. On a 500-cow dairy with a lameness incidence rate of 20% and a per-cow cost of $90, lameness can cost a dairy operation $9,000 a year. A Wisconsin study estimated the total cost of a lame dairy cow to be as high as $300 per case.

Why is lameness so costly? Treatment, reduced feed intake, reduced milk yield, reduced fertility and increased labor all play a role.

Identifying lame cows can be problematic. Lameness scoring is a common tool used for managing hoof problems. Cow behavior can also be another way to sort out cows with lameness issues.

Overall, lameness can be minimized by increasing cow comfort, avoiding overcrowding, and developing and maintaining a treatment system. Most dairy producers routinely use footbaths to prevent and treat hoof problems, and minimize the incidence of lameness.

Footbath concentrates like HealMax and HoofMax can be effective tools in the fight against lameness.

HealMax is a biodegradable product which achieves results without formaldehyde or heavy metals. HoofMax optimizes copper or zinc sulfate in the footbath to remain effective even at significantly reduced metals levels.

To learn more about reducing lameness on your dairy operation, talk to your veterinarian or hoof trimmer today.

Limiting the spread and severity of digital dermatitis is a common concern for dairy producers. Digital dermatitis — also known as hairy heel warts or foot rot — typically affects confined dairy cows. Young animals and cows that have calved recently have been shown to be particularly vulnerable.1 The disease is also emerging in beef cattle on feedlots.

While copper sulfate footbaths are effective in reducing digital dermatitis outbreaks on dairies, copper sulfate is expensive and potentially toxic. Disposal typically involves mixing the metal with slurry and dumping into lagoons or on fields. The resulting build-up of copper sulfate in the soil over time poses a serious problem that is difficult to reverse. How, then, can producers shield their herds from this costly disease while minimizing copper usage?

Good hygiene practices can help prevent the disease from taking hold in your herd. Skin softened by wet conditions and contaminated with manure is easier for the bacteria that causes the disease to penetrate and infect. It follows that keeping hooves clean and dry helps reduce the occurrence of hairy heel warts in your herd.

Another method of prevention is to be more aware of potential cross-contamination. Hoof trimming equipment should be disinfected often, especially after contact with infected cattle or after use on farms with significant digital dermatitis problems. Boots that come into contact with slurry and mechanical parts that directly touch infected cows should also be disinfected before coming into contact with common areas or healthy animals. However, even operations with proper handling procedures and optimal hygiene standards can still be affected by the disease.

Dr. Nigel Cook, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and creator of a widely-referenced hoof and leg hygiene scoring chart, recommends a footbathing interval based on current leg hygiene and stage of production. Dr. Cook recommends footbathing fresh cows more frequently, as these animals tend to be at a higher risk of contracting infectious hoof diseases, including digital dermatitis.2 Thus, while proper hygiene may reduce the frequency of footbathing programs, it is unlikely to replace them altogether.

Enhancing copper footbaths with additives is a simple way to limit the amount of copper disposed of on land. Additives can increase the potency of the solution, in some cases allowing producers to use up to 80 percent less copper in their footbaths.

These additives also resist pH change, which can help footbaths last longer in the presence of organic materials and allow the complete dissolution of copper sulfate for maximum bacteria-killing power. One study showed that copper sulfate additives can increase the number of cows treated by a single footbath from 300 to 600.3 This allows producers to use far smaller amounts of copper sulfate to treat more cows, significantly reducing their reliance on heavy metals and lowering the cost of treatment for each cow by up to 50 percent.4

Additives may help reduce copper usage, but for producers looking to eliminate all reliance on heavy metals, there are alternative mixtures to copper available. Some biodegradable footbath solutions can achieve results without the use of any heavy metals or formaldehyde.

For producers who need to reduce or altogether eliminate the use of expensive and toxic heavy metals in their footbath programs, there are several avenues to explore. Talk with your veterinarian about how to best handle your operation’s approach to digital dermatitis management.

Article originally appeared in Country Folks - Cattle Production Guide - Winter 2016 p. 10

1 Digital Dermatitis emerges in Beef Cattle. The Western Producer. August 7, 2014.
2 Hendrickson, Chip. Footbath Schedule for Your Dairy Cows. Hoof Health Solutions. February 23, 2016.
3 The Effect of HOOFMAX Acid Concentrate on the Viability of Bacteria Responsible for Foot Rot and Foot Warts in Dairy Cattle.
4 Ibid.

Mastitis and lameness are two common care problems for dairy cows – and their owners! Both cost producers time, production and money. However, both diseases can be viewed as similar in ways of prevention.

Early detection is the first step in preventing both mastitis and lameness. Prevention of lameness can be as simple as having a herdsman walking through the barns to check for lame cows, or giving hooves a once-over when cows are in the milking parlor.

Approach lameness detection with the same dedication you would in preventing mastitis.  Keep hooves dry, clean and cool to minimize the growth of bacteria that can cause diseases such as digital dermatitis (hairy heel wart). Wet, dirty and hot conditions are perfect opportunities for promoting bacterial growth.

Footbaths are another preventative tool for maintaining ultimate hoof care. The more a cow’s hooves are exposed to footbath solutions, the more effective prevention will be. Just like teat dips on udders, footbath chemicals or solutions on hooves can help prevent costly problems down the road.

Footbath concentrates like HealMax and HoofMax from AgroChem are designed to obtain results and promote hoof care health for reduced risk of disease and lameness. HealMax remains effective in higher temperatures and won’t flash-off like formaldehyde. HoofMax optimizes footbaths based on copper or zinc sulfate to achieve good control with less heavy metals and expense.

Talk to your veterinarian or hoof trimmer today about a hoof care protocol on your dairy.

(Adapted from a recent article in Hoard’s Dairyman Intel)