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0909 PD: Are you attacking your dairy’s lameness issues as a team?

Elbert Koster Published on 05 June 2009

Lameness can be caused by an assortment of factors on a single dairy.

To focus on how to reduce lameness on a dairy, the issue must first be diagnosed. What kind of lameness (horn disorders, infectious diseases, etc.) is there? What do the cows suffer from? What is the biggest risk factor for this disease found on the farm?



Because lameness is truly a multi-factorial disease, this is a tough job to do. To properly diagnose, input is needed from many different service providers on the farm. If the following people work together and focus on the goal of reducing lameness while still maintaining milk production, the success rate is going to be higher.

The farmer or herd manager should be the head of the team because they are ultimately in control of the changes.

The hoof trimmer should be involved because he can identify what kind of lesions are found in the cows’ feet. For example, if most of the cows are lame from infectious diseases (digital dermatitis, foot warts or foot rot), hygiene and footbath routine should be analyzed. If most of the lameness is caused by hoof horn disorders (sole ulcers or white line disease) the team should look at rations and cow comfort. If there are a lot of cows showing signs of thin soles, the trimmer should recognize this but not trim at all; instead the recommendation should be made to put rubber in highly abrasive areas.

The nutritionist should be involved because he knows how important rations are for rumen health. There are a number of hoof lesions that could be caused by nutrition or cow comfort. There is a rule of thumb I like to use: If a large percentage of these hoof lesions are present at all points in time we need to look at cow comfort. If these lesions appear and disappear the cause is probably nutrition-related.

The veterinarian should be involved because he knows the herd’s reproductive history. He should also be familiar with the dairy to be able to judge cow comfort.


DHI records could be another tool used by this team as they show butterfat fluctuations and MUN levels.

If there are many fingers pointing in the direction of poor rumen health, the vet could assist with rumen synthesis and measuring BUN levels. Also, the number of corrected DAs will indicate how well the cows’ rumens are performing.

It is my opinion that managing lameness should be a team approach. For the team to work, it has to have common goals that are achievable. It has to benchmark lameness metrics on the farm by locomotion scores. And, as a team, members have to respect each other.

The next time you attend a seminar about rubber flooring, acidosis or functional hoof trimming, I urge you to attend it, but only to realize you are looking at a small piece of the puzzle to reduce a multi-factorial disease called lameness. PD

Elbert Koster
No-Tilt Hoof Trimming
Innisfail, Alberta