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How often should a farmer inspect a cow's feet?

The issue of when to trim cow’s feet was a recurring theme at the Cattle Lameness Conference held at Haselbury Mill, Somerset last week.

 

Rebecca Jordan reports...

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How often should a farmer inspect a cow's feet? #HandyHints

Every cow should have their feet looked at three times a year, according to Ben Westaway, an independent foot trimmer who runs Tamar Hoofcare in north Devon and north Cornwall.

 

He suggested cows should be inspected every four months to keep on top of any issues which would otherwise go unnoticed.

 

“In an ideal situation cows should be trimmed at dry off, 80 to 100 days into their lactation and again 220 to 240 days mid-lactation,” advised Mr Westaway.

 

“I am also trimming more and more springing heifers and we are seeing great results and lower incidences of lameness in first lactation.”

 

Mr Westaway said he encouraged his clients to footbath cows once a day five to seven days a week.

 

“I find this is the only way of breaking the cycle and catching the M1 early enough and preventing the M2,” he said.


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Mr Westaway also said the dairy industry needed to take action at farm level with vets, foot trimmers, nutritionists and farm staff all working together towards preventing lameness.

 

“But you cannot manage what you do not measure so keeping records is as important as trimming itself. Without accurate records we cannot measure our progress of benchmark our herds.”

 

Dick Sibley, from the West Ridge Veterinary Practic, Devon, said predict and prevent, rather than test and treat was the future of dairy cow lameness management.

 

He said: “Historically vets are dependent on failure for their existence. The time has come when we must all look at success as a way to make a living. It would be fair to say there is a lack of confidence in vets to get involved in something they see as an inevitability.

 

“We need to be talking to foot trimmers and farmers – sharing information and records – to prevent lameness occurring in dairy herds. There is a 50 per cent lameness prevalence in some dairy herds.

 

"This is a challenge to us all to tie all the threads together in a tangible and useful way and communicate our experiences and research to farmers in a practical manner."

Eliminate the use of footbaths containing antibiotics

 

With the mounting pressure to reduce antibiotic use on farms, dairy producers need to make sure they are responsibly using antibiotic products when tackling lameness problems.

 

A recent study of 358 dairy farms keeping 81,640 cows revealed 78 per cent of the total mass of antibiotics used were injectable.

 

The top 25 per cent of farms by antibiotic use accounted for over half the antibiotics used on the study farms.

 

And the use of antibiotic footbaths and oral antibiotic powders significantly increased the odds of a farm being in the top 25 per cent of antibiotic users.

 

John Remnant, clinical assistant professor of farm animal health and production at Nottingham University, said: “In terms of lameness and antibiotic use on dairy farms there are numerous ways to use them more responsibly.

 

"Healthy cows do not need antibiotic treatment so, as with all disease, prevention is key. Detect potential problems using mobility scoring and then treat them early, before they are infected."

 

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Prof Remnant urged producers to eliminate the use of antibiotic-containing footbaths.

 

“These contain a massive weight of antibiotics which end up mixed in with the slurry and then spread on the ground. They are not terribly effective and the industry can no longer justify this treatment,” he said.

 

He suggested digital dermatitis was treated with topical antibiotics (sprays) as these contain less antibiotic than an injectable product and were effective.

 

Claw horn disease can be successfully treated with a non-steroid anti-inflammatory and the application of a block.

Research into the timing of foot trimming

 

In a survey of 354 dairy farmers, most respondents wanted to see more research done on when they should be trimming cows’ feet.

 

The next most popular question was how they should trim, with most focusing on correct technique, toe length and type of crush required for optimal results.

 

Sara Pedersen, who presented the survey and is currently working on a PhD on evidence-based approach to preventative cattle trimming at the University of Nottingham, said: “If you get the method of trimming wrong, it is not worth doing.

 

“It is important to understand the correct correlation between toe length, foot angle and sole depth so there is the correct weight balance between toe and claw.

 

“Foot angle is of primary importance as this will determine sole depth. Toe length for a 650kg Holstein at drying off using the Five-Step Dutch method of trimming should be between 75m to 90mm long. Sole thickness should be at least 5mm to 7mm.”

 

Of the total involved in the survey, 47 per cent were currently using a professional foot trimmer, 31 per cent farm staff and 22 per cent a combination of both.

 

These producers managed herds ranging from 10 to 3,050 cows, with yields ranging from 4,333 litres/year to 13,077 litres/year in systems as varied as extended grazing to year-round housing.

 

More than 80 per cent of the respondents routinely trim their herd’s feet with the same number doing the work at drying off. Just 11 per cent trim in-calf heifers and just over 50 per cent trim during lactation. Only 5 per cent trim the whole herd at regular intervals.

 

“I cannot emphasis enough the importance of trimming heifers’ feet,” said Ms Pedersen. “There are so many benefits to the cost of milk production from improved fertility to increased yields.”

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