Good News for Dairy Cows & Farmers

Lameness is one of the most costly health problems affecting dairy cattle today. Not only will a dairy cow with lame, sore, infected feet produce less milk, but she will be less fertile, have a shorter life expectancy and incur higher health-related costs.

“It’s not just a production issue,” says David Janssens, a Surrey dairy producer who chairs the Dairy Industry Research and Education Committee. “It’s also about animal welfare.”

It was important to accurately identify the types of hoof lesions in BC herds and the extent of the problem before devising solutions.

Most dairy cows get their hooves trimmed at least once a year. Hoof trims are kind of like pedicures for cows. Regularly inspecting their feet puts trimmers in the perfect position to spot lesions.

Under the guidance of the multi-stakeholder BC Dairy Hoof Health Group, AR-PE Hooftrimming of Abbotsford launched a hoof health project.

To kick things off, hoof trimmers were invited to a one-day workshop to learn how to properly identify various lesions and standardize data recording.

“If trimmers are using a digital recorder but aren’t identifying hoof problems in the same way, it creates confusion and misinformation,” says project manager, Ron Barker.

During the ensuing months, more than 32,000 trims were recorded, covering over 15,000 animals from 85 herds throughout BC. Related projects were being conducted concurrently in Alberta and Ontario. In total, there are now records on more than 80,000 cows from 578 herds.

With this solid database to analyze, some interesting findings began to appear, including regional differences in the types of lesions found. Overall, 60 per cent of the cows had at least one lesion. In BC, 47 per cent of the lesions were associated with digital dermatitis.

Lesions can appear for a variety of reasons and a holistic team approach is important to address the issue. The next step was sharing this information with dairy farmers, herd managers and the suppliers of services to the industry, from veterinarians and trimmers to building contractors and feed nutritionists.

In 2012, three one-day seminars were held across BC in the spring culminating in a three-day conference in the fall that covered topics including automated milking, dairy barn design and hoof health, and drew more than 200 participants.

“The first two projects did a good job of training hoof trimmers on proper identification of ailments,” adds Janssens. “Producers are getting better information from their trimmers, plus we now have some hard numbers to show the extent of this issue.”

But that isn’t the end of the story. The industry can now focus its efforts to combat digital dermatitis.

The BC Dairy Association has taken the lead to develop and test an on-farm tool that will help herd managers work with their trimmers, veterinarians and nutritionists to assess hoof health risk and identify recommendations for changes. This team approach is expected to identify hoof problems sooner, thereby decreasing the prevalence of lameness.

“Well over half the cows have problems caused by an infectious bacteria found in cow manure,” adds Barker. “Good manure management in combination with clean, comfortable stalls and effective foot baths are important to reduce cases of infectious foot problems.”

What’s good for the cows is also good for the dairy industry.

“Hoof health can and does have a huge impact on a farm’s bottom line,” says Tom Droppo, dairy industry specialist with BC’s Ministry of Agriculture, who coordinated the outreach activities. “The new practices some dairies have adopted are starting to get other people’s attention.”

Funding: $71,358 for the first two projects through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework (A0628, A0679). The third project has been approved for up to $38,800, through the same program. (A0752)