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Key takeaways from international hoof health conference

PD Staff Published on 10 October 2013

Progressive Dairyman asked trimmer Allen Schlabach and University of Minnesota’s Gerard Cramer to share their feedback from the International Conference on Lameness in Ruminants. This event was held Aug. 11-14, 2013, in Bristol, England.




Allen Schlabach
Hoof Trimmers Association President
Hoof trimmer, Fredericksburg, Ohio

Editor’s note: This article appears in the Fall 2013 edition of the Hoof Trimmers Association newsletter.

The 17th International Lameness Symposium held in Bristol, England, was well attended (more than 300 people from 30 countries) and a smashing success by all measures. There were delegates from Russia there for the first time.

There was exciting research presented from all over the world, the technical jargon of which was well beyond my comprehension, but the practical application part was worth the stretching exercise of that gray matter between my ears.

Hearing some new phrases from the research world, I now need to Google them to try to augment my comprehension. While I don’t anticipate this will improve my ability to hold an intelligent conversation in their world, I do hope it will give me more appreciation for the stringent structures their life revolves around.


Something that caught my attention was the many presentations on digital dermatitis, meaning this is still a hot-button issue. The novel treatments that have been employed and various success rates were assessed.

Researchers have now identified the genome that makes cows susceptible to digital dermatitis (DD), leading to the discussion/possibility of blocking or accelerating gene expressions to control the production of proteins that appear to be the culprit in treponeme infection or prevention thereof.

This topic was a bad news, good news topic at the symposium. The bad news: Looks like the disease known as digital dermatitis is with us for the foreseeable future.

The good news: It has been proven that it can be controlled and managed quite effectively by a good footbath or spraying regimen. What’s the near future of combating DD on the farm level?

There is another pharmaceutical company working on a vaccine and a company working on a feed additive. I did not hear a timeline of when to expect either of these, but the impression of imminence was palpable.

My take-home message on DD: While the short-term outlook is much like the present, the future holds the promise of more options to control and hopefully eliminate DD.


Another topic of interest to me was lameness-detection methods. There were three presentations each for the use of infrared thermography and motion-tracking cameras to detect lameness. Either of these technologies I believe could soon be a viable tool on the farm for early detection of lameness.

For thermography, the temperature parameters and variables induced by the environment need to be programmed, then the location determined (i.e., parlor) where cows can routinely be monitored, then cows of interest could be red-flagged for attention.

For the motion-tracking cameras, the algorithms needed to detect lameness need a little more refining but do not seem too distant, as the one system claimed a 92 percent accuracy already. Watch for these technologies in the near future.

For the trimming and treating lameness side, there were numerous presentations, from quantifying recovery rates of different lesions to treating complicated lesions of the foot. Many of these treatment processes were a job for the veterinarian because of the advanced stage of disease the lesion had progressed to.

Of particular interest to me were the non-healing lesions described by several presenters. It has long been theorized that sole ulcers and white-line lesions that are almost impossible to heal are infected with the DD treponeme.

Several of the presenters have proven this by finding these treponemes present in these lesions; one also found the presence of BVD. This is very interesting indeed and brings more questions that need to be answered (isolated incident, higher risk factor if present, combination of two that is the cause).

Knowing that this non-healing lesion appears around the world does not help to solve the problem, but it does help relieve frustration and the self-inflicted stress of questioning whether my trimming and treatments were adequate when confronted by such lesions.

All presenters agreed that early detection and treatment of lameness would lessen the likelihood of any lesion to progress to this state of almost no return.

Genetics also was a topic for several presenters, and this was more of a mixed bag between slight correlation to a strong correlation depending on what questions were being asked.

The Nordic countries seem to show their own sires as having better hoof-health traits than imported sires, but the correlation for improvement of hoof-health traits seemed at a standstill.

The French have found the “chicken or the egg first” debate, in that heritability of hoof disorders has a strong correlation, but that correlation is tied to trimming. (The more often an animal was trimmed, the more liable to have hoof lesions.

Then the offspring were more liable to be trimmed more often, completing the circle.) Their conclusion: “The number of times a bovine needs trimmed could be a heritability trait worth including in genetic evaluations.”

So in summary, my visit to England was well worth the effort from the knowledge gained alone, then add the benefit of meeting friends infrequently seen and the new friendships established, all in a community of people focused on the well-being of ruminant feet. Tis indeed enough to swell the heart in a moment of euphoria.


Gerard Cramer
Associate Professor
University of Minnesota

Editor’s note: The following comments are compiled from Twitter updates that Cramer posted during the conference. Follow Cramer on Twitter .

• During Roger Blowey’s keynote presentation, “25 years of digit symposia – fact, fiction and the future,” Blowey posed questions regarding nutritional impact, anatomy changes, functional trimming and what are proper treatments and control of digital dermatitis.

• During Nigel Cook’s, “Is digital dermatitis a cause of hoof conformation changes in its early clinical stage?” research shows that in high-producing herds, low lameness prevalence was associated with deep bedding, pasture access and less cows per full-time equivalent, which meant less lame cows if there were more workers on the farm.

• Karin Orsel’s “Lameness and cow comfort on Canadian dairy farms” keynote address looked at a range of herd lying times, not just the average. Herds with a narrow range have less lameness than herds with a wide range.

• There were several highlights from Jon Huxley’s keynote, “Searching for the evidence base: What do we know about treating claw horn lesions?”

• In one of few clinical trials on ulcer/white-line disease treatment, preliminary findings show a block, plus non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) improves outcome after five weeks.

• Adding NSAID at the time of block application for ulcer and white-line disease reduces discomfort due to the block.

• The key to reduce lameness impact is early detection and treatment. This greatly reduces prevalence and greater success on cases.

• Several presentations at the conference focused on toe-tip necrosis. There’s low prevalence of the disease, and it’s very treatable. Focus on preventing wear on hooves, digital dermatitis and bovine viral diarrhea.

• Dorte Dopfer’s “Bovine digital dermatitis: The tedious reality of an endemic claw disease” talk offered tips on the common problem of DD.

Bacteria treponema encyst after exposure to harsh conditions, which leads to chronicity. We need to prevent infection and treat early. Consider pen walks to monitor DD status of herds and monitor efficacy of the footbath program. PD