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Taking steps to manage claw horn lameness

On most dairy farms, claw horn lesions are proving a bigger problem than digital dermatitis. Graeme McPherson, vet with Dorset-based Synergy Farm Health, explains what can be done.

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dairy supp  inside, cubicle, sand, comfort.jpg
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Of the thousands of cattle with foot lesions trimmed by Synergy Farm Health foot trimmers in the last year, more than 60 per cent had some kind of claw horn lesion. This can include solar bruising, sole ulcers and white line lesions.

 

Mr McPherson says: “While digital dermatitis is significant on most farms, claw horn issues are the biggest problem identified. Lameness caused by horn problems is harder to treat and costlier to cow health and production than infectious causes of lameness, meaning prevention and treatment is key.

 

“For the most part, grazing cattle do not get many of these problems. They stand and walk on pasture, they can eat when they want and lie down when they want. Grassland is the natural habitat of the bovine foot. But when cows spend significant time on concrete we must actively manage their feet to minimise the impact.”

 

Solar bruising represents haemorrhage which arises from the sensitive, horn producing cells under the horn of the foot and can arise from time spent standing on concrete. When damage to these cells is severe, ulcers can appear. Cows are particularly susceptible to this kind of damage in the two months around calving, so it is vital to ensure cows can lie down for as long as they want to (see panel).

Factors which can help reduce time standing:

 

  • Milking time – total time from initial disturbance to cows getting back to their beds should ideally not exceed 60 minutes (this is especially important for freshly-calved cows)
  • Minimise time spent waiting on concrete.Feed space - at least 70cm per cow, with more required for transition and fresh cows.
  • Water trough space – at least 10cm per cow.
  • Water trough filling speed - may require at least 60l per minute.
  • Comfortable lying surface. Cows lie for longer on sand than mattresses. Mattresses become less comfortable with age and should be replaced within 10 years.

Mr McPherson says: “White line problems are typically caused by shearing forces on the foot. The white line is where the sole horn and wall horn join. When cows turn sharp corners or push against one another on concrete, the white line can separate. It is important to minimise these shearing forces.”

 

Steps which can be taken:

 

  • Avoid forcing cows to negotiate sharp corners. If corners cannot be prevented, place rubber matting where cows are likely to turn.
  • Only use backing gates to keep collecting yard space consistent, not to encourage cows into the parlour
  • Sympathetic handling

Regular trimming by a skilled operator maintains correct balance and reduces pressure on the critical ‘ulcer point’ on the sole.

 

Early identification

 

Mr McPherson says: “Cows with claw horn issues treated within 48 hours of becoming lame recover quicker and are much less likely to become lame again. Sole ulcers which are left untreated eventually result in bony spurs growing on the bone of the foot, leading to irrevocable pinching of the sensitive tissue under the sole which cannot be cured. Early identification means actively looking for lameness through regular mobility scoring.”

 

Treatment

 

“Cows which are lame because of claw horn issues need corrective foot trimming. Research has shown more than 60 per cent of farmers learn foot trimming by watching someone else or by teaching themselves. Without proper training, we can do more harm than good.

 

There should be someone on every farm who has completed a minimum of a two-day course on the Dutch method of foot trimming so they are able to treat claw horn lameness effectively. Commercial trimmers should be qualified and actively participating in continuing professional development.

 

“A recent study has shown cows with any claw horn lameness benefit significantly from a block being applied to the sound claw and an injection of anti-inflammatory together, with corrective trimming irrespective of the severity of the lesion,” Mr McPherson says.

 

 


Read More

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Key messages

  • People foot trimming or treating lame cows must have adequate training in the Dutch method of foot trimming
  • Pro-actively minimise standing times
  • Regularly trim all cow’s feet. Discuss frequency with your vet
  • Reduce risk of cows slipping on concrete
  • Handle cows quietly and gently
  • Mobility score regularly
  • Treat identified lame cows within 48 hours of detection
  • Apply blocks and give an anti-inflammatory to all claw horn related lameness

XLVets Farmskills together with the Cattle Lameness Academy run courses in foot trimming for all levels as well as mobility scoring. For more details visit CATTLE LAMENESS ACADEMY

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