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Can we cut back on hoof trimming in tough times?

Aaron LaVoy for Progressive Dairyman Published on 22 February 2019
Hoof treatment

It has been painfully obvious to everyone involved the dairy economy has been in one of the longest financial droughts most of us can remember.

It is only natural and financially responsible to cut costs wherever possible; however, it is important to not make knee-jerk reactions that could potentially reduce income. With milk prices being at record lows, and commodities high, reducing income as a result of cutting cost would be counterproductive and only set in place a long line of problems and costs to follow.

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When it comes to hoof trimming, some producers may be wondering if there are some costs they can cut from this line item of their budget. To answer that question, let’s look at the three main trimming intervals to better understand the purpose of each:

  • Pre-fresh heifer trim – Although they are young, heifers are susceptible to the same hoof lesions as cows and, many times, lesions in cows are the result of lameness as a heifer. With early detection being critical to the full recovery of most lesions, catching them at this stage is crucial.

  • 100 days in milk (DIM) maintenance trim – This trim is put in place as a check-up/rebalance to keep things going well during the taxing lactation. Many soon-to-be problems are discovered and corrected at this trim and are corrected before they develop into actual lesions.

  • Dry cow trim – Dry cows go through a number of transitions/stresses. Trimming cows at this time allows for any correction to be made with balance and also therapeutic steps to be taken such as blocking an ulcer or abscess or treating digital dermatitis, allowing time for healing to take place or rechecks before starting the new lactation on the wrong foot.

Cut back on trimming?

Recently, I’ve been asked by dairy farmers which of these trims they can cut out of the schedule in order to save money. To answer this, I turn the question around and ask, “At which of these intervals would you most like to deal with lameness?”

  • Just-fresh heifer?
  • Mid-lactation?
  • Dry-off?

Understanding the cost of lameness and the difference made by extreme comfort makes this question easy to answer. I’ve often said there is a big difference in production by cows that are just “not lame” versus cows that are extremely comfortable. A cow that’s not clinically lame can still be in pain, even without an obvious lesion. These are the cows that benefit the most from staying on the trimming schedule.

In my 15 years of trimming, it’s been shown to me time and time again; the difference between herds that adhere to a regular maintenance trimming schedule and those that do not average 10 pounds more milk per cow. How much milk might skipping a routine trim be costing you?

Inevitably, “cutting costs” by reducing maintenance trims means you will deal with more lame cows at one of these times. In truth, reducing maintenance will yield an increase in problems and, just as importantly, reduction in overall comfort which will, in turn, reduce production.

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Save by focusing on early detection

Saving money to make even less money is counterproductive. It would be wiser to up the game by instating practices that can further reduce lameness, which would reduce hoof care cost and increase production. One thing I see as a trimmer and consultant that many dairies could improve on is early detection of lameness. The earlier a problem is detected, the greater the chances of full recovery and reduced loss.

It is critical all personnel are trained and understand the importance of early detection and reporting lameness to the proper person, so it is dealt with in a timely manner. To learn more about detecting lameness, ask a trusted hoof trimmer to provide on-farm training or to direct you to a reputable resource.

When consulting with dairies, I like to train one person on the farm to provide what I call “triage” or “battlefield care,” such as reducing pressure when an ulcer is present or opening up an abscess and the proper way to apply a block. This person should understand how to help without causing more damage. Early detection and care can reduce cost and loss and therefore is a profitable change to implement without adding much additional expense beyond training costs.

I also like to talk to the whole team about whose job it is to watch for and report early lameness. It is everybody’s job to detect early lameness. If your income relies on cows, it is your duty and moral responsibility to watch for and report any possible signs of lameness. It is also the owners’ and managers’ responsibility to ensure each employee understands their role and is adequately trained to do so.

Lameness looks bad

Beyond the financial impact, animal welfare also needs to be considered, from both the perspective of our needs as well as the animals for which we provide care. Without adequate maintenance, the probability of lameness becomes much greater. We are under the very watchful eye of those who prefer to sabotage the industry, and we need to be vigilant in not giving them cases of welfare that could be considered neglect.

It would be very unreasonable to say there will be absolute zero lameness, but it should be the goal for which we all strive. If zero lameness is your goal, you will likely come much closer to it than if you lower your expectations. We should strive to provide the absolute best care and welfare for our animals as we possibly can. That said, how can we possibly reduce prevention steps without expecting a negative result from it that would compromise the welfare of the cows that provide our income?

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In summary, with understanding the economic impact of waiting for lameness to happen versus preventing it, coupled with the animal welfare aspects that have to be considered, how can we reduce the care we provide cows without expecting a negative impact? The solution is to increase the care we provide without increasing the cost, if possible, by continuing maintenance and increasing early detection and correction to maintain the highest profitability and welfare we possibly can.  end mark

PHOTO: Keeping up with a routine hoof-trimming schedule for pre-fresh heifers along with cows at mid-lactation and dry-off prevents incurring the cost of treating lameness later on.  Photo provided by Aaron LaVoy.

Aaron LaVoy is with Midwestern Hoof Care. Email Aaron LaVoy.

 

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