As any dairy farmer knows, lameness is the most economically significant herd health and animal welfare issue facing producers. What is often less obvious is that hoof lesions are the culprit behind over 95 percent of lameness cases.

According to Trevor Hargreaves, Director of Producer Relations and Communications with the BC Dairy Association (BCDA), the lack of industry awareness has long contributed to this persistent problem.

“Lameness is commonly underestimated on dairy farms,” he explains. “A recent study on Alberta dairy herds revealed that while farmers estimate an eight percent proportion of lameness, the actual rate was confirmed to be closer to 20 percent.”

After a similar assessment on 75 BC dairies revealed the majority were substantially affected by lameness, the BCDA decided to introduce the industry to the ‘Dutch 5-Step Method of Hoof Trimming,’ an internationally recognized technique that requires specialized training and on-going support.

For Trevor and other stakeholders, the pilot was critical to filling the gap of in-depth courses available in BC.

“Despite many years of practical experience, BC’s professional hoof trimmers do not have a certification program in place to ensure a high level of consistency in the way they trim hooves,” says Trevor, citing the wide variations in technical knowledge and expertise in hoof lesion identification, trimming techniques and competence levels even amongst professional trimmers.

Thanks to federal and provincial funding, the BCDA was able to offer a series of hoof trimming clinics led by the Western Canadian Certified Hoof Trimmers Association to almost 70 dairy producers and farm employees throughout BC.

In addition to learning to correctly identify infectious and non-infectious claw lesions and risk factors, participants like Bruce Froese received hands-on training to trim and balance a cadaver foot as well as instruction on trimming tools and restraint systems available to safely trim feet.

As a result, Bruce was able to obtain his Certification for Hoof Trimming Proficiency, recognized worldwide, and now offers a new level of assurance to his customers at Greenleaf Hoof Care in Chilliwack.

“Improving the health, recovery and longevity of the herd very quickly covers the relatively minor costs of training and equipment investment on farm,” promises Bruce.

Course reviews from other participants were similarly positive, affirming greater confidence with both the theoretical and technical knowledge required to detect, treat and prevent lameness.

As industry adoption of the Dutch method grows and cases of hoof lesions and lameness begin to decline, Trevor expects the benefits to herd health and profitability will help shift the entire industry closer to its long-term goals.

“This is the first step in moving BC hoof trimmers towards a standardized system and elevating the competency level of trimmers province-wide,” he asserts, noting that animal welfare is one of six management pillars of the Dairy Farmers of Canada’s new proAction Initiative.

Funding: $7,273 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund. (A0838)

Special thanks to Tom Droppo, Dairy Industry Specialist with the BC Ministry of Agriculture for his tireless oversight and support of this project.