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Don’t cross the line when managing white-line disease

Brad Ingram for Progressive Dairy Published on 18 October 2019

During and after wet seasons, bacteria and fungus are prevalent. Similar to human toenails, once fungus and bacteria set in, it’s very challenging to conquer.

The combination of different pathogens and a white-line separation are a recipe for lameness in dairy cows.



White-line lesion

White-line disease is one of the most common lameness causes in dairy cows. It occurs when the sole separates from the side wall of the hoof. If left untreated, bacteria can build up and increase the risk of further infection and disease. This impacts both herd and hoof health and can result in severe lameness and a decrease in milk production.

Causes and symptoms of white-line disease

The white-line region on a cow claw consists of the softer, off-white horn. When a white-line separation occurs, foreign objects can penetrate and infect the region. The white-line region is easily damaged, and exposure to excess moisture softens the horn even more. In damp and rainy conditions, cows are at an increased risk of inflammation and abscess formation.

In most cases, white-line disease appears in the rear lateral claw, closest to the heel because it bears the most weight. When the white-line separates, cows often favor the unaffected claw, shifting their weight to relieve the injured claw. If a cow is visibly in pain, limping or standing on three out of four legs, a hoof care professional should check for lameness-related injuries. During the separation of the white-line, bruising or black marks on the sole of the claw may indicate further infection. Early detection and treatment of diseased claws help minimize effects on milk production.

White-line disease prevention and treatment tools

Hoof cracks and injuries, such as white-line disease, can adversely affect the overall well-being of the herd. To avoid further disease after white-line separation, dairy farmers must take the necessary steps to maintain milk production, avoid downtime and save money. Common preventative measures include:


  • Restricted movement: Dairy cows tend to walk on hard surfaces and in concrete environments. The impact of moving, turning or changing directions can separate the white-line from the hoof wall. When a cow is forced to repetitively pivot and change direction, the animal’s condition may worsen. Minimize herd movement, decrease standing and lockup times and properly install floor surfaces to reduce extreme forces on the hoof. It’s crucial to promote lying time and keep cows calm to avoid sudden force and movement.

  • Solid ground: In overcrowded barns, dairy cows stand for extended periods with no room for their heavy bodies to lie down. The extra pressure from excess standing and the hard, abrasive ground in a barn increases lameness-related issues like white-line disease. For maximum comfort, grooves within the concrete floor should be 1 inch wide, three-eighths of an inch deep and 4 to 8 inches apart.

  • Clean environments: Clean stalls maintain healthy hooves. By scraping alleys, dairy farmers can minimize moisture and bacteria trapped in cows’ feet. Similar to mopping a kitchen floor, alley scraping should be done as much as possible and based on observation to keep the area debris-free.

  • Regular trimming cycles: To avoid hoof complications, maintain regular trimming routines and examinations. If corrective trimming is necessary, remove all the loose, unhealthy horn to prevent the infection from resurfacing.

  • Blocking treatment: Blocking is a technique commonly used to treat disease and avoid lameness in dairy cows. Hoof care professionals place a wood or rubber block on a healthy claw to elevate and restrict the affected claw so that it heals. Blocks also help alleviate the pain associated with the lesion on an affected claw. With a block in place, the affected claw can re-grow up to one-fourth of an inch in a month. Blocking provides the weight-bearing relief needed to make cows more comfortable during the recovery process.

Talk with a hoof care professional about best practices for managing white-line disease and avoiding further infection to keep milk production moving.  end mark

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Kristen Phillips.

Brad Ingram is the Midwest Regional Sales Manager and in-house bovine hoof care expert for Vettec, Inc. He oversees states ranging from Michigan to Montana, as well as all Canadian provinces. He travels frequently educating dealers and trimmers at hands-on workshops and represents Vettec at tradeshow events. Brad began working with the company in 2018.

Brad Ingram
  • Brad Ingram

  • Midwest regional sales manager
  • Bovine hoof care expert
  • Vettec, Inc.
  • Email Brad Ingram