HOOF blocks can be a useful tool to aid the healing of cattle foot problems but if used incorrectly they can do more harm than good. Hannah Noble reports.
Lameness in the dairy herd is caused by a wide range of foot and leg conditions.
AHDB estimates each case of lameness costs the farmer about £180 due to treatment costs, loss of yield and possible impact on the cow’s productive life, as well as this, lameness is also detrimental to the cow’s welfare.
However, all is not lost. Emily Craven, of Oakwood Veterinary Group, Norfolk, says claw horn lesions which include severe sole bruising, sole ulcers, white line disease and wall ulcers can be treated effectively with the application of a hoof block in conjunction with anti-inflammatories and therapeutic trimming.
She says: “Claw horn lesions can develop as a result of poor quality flooring and the condition of cow tracks.
“They can be linked to nutrition, relaxation of ligaments around calving making cows predisposed to sole ulcers and walking or standing for long periods on concrete.”
Miss Craven, who has a special interest in lameness and foot health, says hoof blocks should be used to take the weight off an
injured claw, by raising it off the ground, to relieve discomfort and allow healing of the affected claw.
“The animal must have a healthy claw to attach the block to, as putting a block on a claw will increase pressure through it,” she adds.
“If both claws are an issue it depends on the exact problem, but it is not usually a great prognosis, the alternative would be deep straw yards. It is usually a case of referring to an expert, either a vet or a qualified foot trimmer.”
There are a variety of hoof blocks on the market and Miss Craven says there is no research which shows any block is superior, but that people seem to have their preferred type or brand. Blocks come in a number of different materials, including rubber and wood and vary in thickness.
She said the most important thing is that the block is doing its job properly, staying on for the right period of time, providing an appropriate amount of support and allowing the cow to walk with the correct foot angle.
“If the block is in the wrong place, or the wrong size, you are going to change the gait and the whole way of walking,” Miss Craven adds.
“A badly fitting block is probably worse than no block at all.”
When choosing the correct block, the whole claw needs to be covered but the block should not extend far beyond the toe or the heel.
“If the block is too small, it puts a lot more pressure through the healthy claw, and if the block is too big there is more risk of it being pulled off,” she says.
“Getting the right size and making sure it is fitted in the right place is really important for the recovery of the animal.
The weight needs to be evenly balanced across the whole foot, allowing the cow to put its foot down flat and without
putting too much pressure on the affected claw.”
When applying the hoof block, AHDB recommend the following steps:
“The blocked foot needs looking at ideally after about two weeks but the maximum would be one month,” Miss Craven says.
“I would also advise the foot is rechecked sooner if no improvement is seen, there may be a problem under the block.”
“You then have the option of leaving the block on taking the block off and replacing it or taking the block off and leaving it off.”
She says blocks are usually worn down or fall off of their own accord, but they can be removed using a grinder or hoof nippers if required.
IN November 2019, Emily Craven was named the British Veterinary Association’s first young vet of the year.
The award is presented to a vet who has been qualified for less than eight years and has made an outstanding contribution that is recognised in their workplace and benefits the veterinary community.
Miss Craven was nominated for her exceptional teamwork when helping out at a nearby practice, Oakwood Veterinary Group, Norfolk, for five months, alongside her full-time role at Westpoint Vets, Chelmsford.