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Be proactive to prevent lameness during the dry period

Aaron LaVoy for Progressive Dairyman Published on 18 July 2016

Proper hoof care management during the dry period is crucial to the cow’s ability to recover and replenish body condition. After a long, productive and taxing lactation, it is imperative that the cow is able to restore its nutrient reserves and recuperate.

Much like a professional athlete, the modern-day dairy cow performs at an elite level – a result of being selectively bred for production for many generations. Just as elite athletes need an “off season” to recover, so do our elite, high-performance dairy cows.

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With that in mind, as a hoof trimmer I examine how that highly productive lactation affects cows’ hooves and what we can do to get the next lactation started off on the right foot.

How does hoof health change during the dry and transition periods?

To start, let’s look at all the stresses that come with calving to help understand why being on a well-trimmed, balanced hoof is so important:

  • A few days before calving, cows are usually first moved to a close-up pen for monitoring, then moved to a freshening pen once calving starts. These two moves have to be done but they cause stress, as any herd change or segregation does in a “herd animal.” These changes generally cultivate an uneasy animal that tends to stand more often, thus putting more stress on its feet.

  • Right before calving, a hormone called relaxin is secreted into the cow’s body to loosen the muscles and ligaments to aid in the calving process; however, this hormone is not confined to the birth canal area and also loosens the ligaments in the rear legs and feet, allowing more movement in the pedal bone inside of the cow’s foot and a weakened suspensory apparatus, which can result in sinking or tilting of that bone.

    A properly trimmed hoof is much less likely to be affected by pedal bone movement. Trimming during this time frame and several days after should be avoided unless it is extremely necessary, as pulling the legs up or an animal falling down during trimming could result in a major injury when the ligaments are loosened from the relaxin hormone (Figure 1).Hoof care

  • After calving, cows are moved again and introduced to a new pen. Here, they must establish social order, adjust to a different ration and undergo further hormone changes as lactation starts and the hard work begins.

    These are a lot of sudden changes for an animal that does not do well with changes and thrives on routine. While all of this adds stress to the cow, most can get through this rough time without incident or major negative impact on the feet as long as proper hoof care during dry time has been implemented.

Proactively prevent lameness during the dry period

With all of these changes occurring in the cow’s feet, it is important for us to consider how we can use the dry period to prevent severe lameness or injury. From a hoof trimmer’s perspective, I look at the environmental and management factors that will help a cow’s feet.

The dry period is like a “vacation” for the cow, and it should be a time for the cow to relax and recover in a place that offers sound flooring, comfortable stalls, dry conditions and good air. Without sound flooring, cows will avoid walking to feed and water, and without comfortable stalls, they will avoid lying down and reducing the load on their hooves.

There are several factors to address when considering stall comfort like bedding, neck rail height and use of brisket boards. Clean and dry conditions must be a priority as moisture breeds bacteria, thus creating an ideal environment for digital dermatitis or Mortellaro’s disease to thrive.

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And what does air quality have to do with dry cow hooves? Well, if the air quality is poor and the cows tend to breathe heavily, they are less likely to lie down and relax. The negative impact of too much time standing will be seen in the cows’ hooves.

Start out on the right ‘hoof’

One of the most important ways to prevent lameness from occurring or worsening during the dry period is a well-balanced, functional hoof trim. When done at or right before dry-off, a proper trim offers several benefits: relieving any bruised areas of the hoof, providing an inspection to ensure there are not any underlying problems and allowing ample time to repair serious issues that might be present at the time of dry-off.

Sometimes it takes more than one time through the chute for the cow to be ready to start a new lactation, worry-free. Even a slight hoof problem will likely set a cow up for a less productive lactation and increase its odds of ending up on the cull list.

Take advantage of the dry period for cows to recover and prepare to put their best “hoof” forward.

In summary, dry cow hoof care has the potential to set a cow up for a successful, productive lactation. It is much more economical to ensure a dry cow vacation than to try to recoup and repair or cull during lactation.  PD

Aaron LaVoy is with Midwestern Hoof Trimming School. Email Aaron LaVoy.

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