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How dairies make use of hoof-trimming records

Keith Sather for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 November 2017

When hoof health records showed digital dermatitis (DD) was out of control at a Minnesota dairy, the owners installed automatic scrapers to keep alleyways and hooves cleaner. In addition, they now modify footbath protocols when reports indicate DD is escalating.

Rather than alternating products week-to-week, they intensify treatment by sticking with one product for a longer time period. As such, they’ve witnessed a significant decline in the number and severity of DD cases. Improving hoof health has increased animal longevity, as well. Over the last couple years, their cull rate has dropped 5 percent.

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This is a great example of how dairy producers translate lesion data gathered from hoof-trimming records into profitable management decisions. Using a chuteside recording system to collect hoof-trimming data offers many advantages.

Producing colorful pie charts, bar graphs, line charts and more, it paints a complete picture of the issues at hand. From DD to white-line disease, reports highlight the actual number and percent of cows affected with each hoof ailment, providing a tidy summary of your herd’s hoof health.

That’s nice, but now what? How do you analyze the data and put it to work on your dairy? First, identify the problem. Do you have an abnormally high number of cows with DD? Are white-line lesions suddenly becoming more prominent? Is there a certain pen that’s home to many troubled feet?

Next, investigate causes and find ways to fix the issues. Get your whole team involved. Perhaps new footbath protocols are in order, or maybe you need to make some flooring changes. Rations might require altering, or your trimming schedule could need adjusting.

Use your trim records to make management decisions and protocol changes that feed into better hoof health and reduced lameness.

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Reviewing a year’s worth of records helps you uncover trends, make comparisons and establish goals. How do your numbers stack up to last month’s? Three months ago? Or to this same time last year? Is the number of cows with lesions moving up or down?

Turn data into decisions

A dairy farm in Canada experiencing high levels of DD reined in the disease by keeping a close watch on hoof data and modifying footbath regimens accordingly. They discovered the footbath product was being over-diluted, causing an increase in DD issues. The farm fine-tuned its procedures, marking correct levels on product containers and the bath itself to avoid water excess or chemical shortages.

From August 2016 to July 2017, the percent of trimmed cows with M2 lesions (acute, bright red ulcerative lesion 2-plus centimeters in diameter) dropped from 60 to 23.81, and lameness fell nearly 4 percent. The dairy also monitors DD stages, and if they find severity getting worse, they step up parlor-spraying protocols.

When records reveal white-line lesions are on the rise, they take a look at facilities and animal handling. Are floors too slippery? Are animals being chased too aggressively? If DD is creeping up, then they ask: “Are we using proper concentrations in the footbath? Are cows going through it often enough?”

The dairy then works on training and refocusing their staff in proper cattle handling and footbath procedures. They also make flooring upgrades when necessary, like grooving down rough areas, roughing up areas that are too slippery and installing rubber where cows turn in the parlor.

A Wisconsin dairy made several changes to positively impact cow comfort after noticing a large increase in summer lameness. Encouraging cows to spend more time off their feet was the key goal. First, they improved stall height by raising all stalls 6 inches.

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They also removed tires used as bedding savers and implemented better stall-grooming practices. Because the farm uses a dry compost bedding which has the tendency to mesh together and harden, they now use a rototill groomer three times per week to loosen bedding and improve its comfort. The dairy also installed shade cloths to protect cows from the sun.

They keep a meticulous eye on DD, watching for whether numbers go up or down and cows’ stage of disease (M1, M2, M3, M4, M4.1). They reduced the issue by tracking which pens had the most problems and which products worked most effectively in the footbath and changed the protocols accordingly.

Following these modifications, lameness in cows trimmed decreased 5.5 percent (39 fewer lame cows) compared to the same period a year earlier. In total, the farm reduced lame trims by 255 so far this year. They also reduced wraps by 215 and blocks by 71. As a result, they’ve saved a substantial amount of money.

Not only does data make it easier to pinpoint problems, it also points out where no problems exist. This same farm stopped trimming first-lactation animals when data disclosed no lesions or other foot disorders were being detected during mid-lactation trimming. Performing just a pre-fresh trim on this group of animals has saved the farm additional money.

By paying close attention to trim records, particularly M-stages scoring data, a Canadian dairy made considerable progress in reducing active DD in their herd. In October 2015, the number of ulcerated lesions (M1, M2, M4.1) for cows trimmed was 82, with 21.71 percent of cows declared lame. The farm ran an experiment with two footbath protocols for different groups of cows and discovered the new protocol was better.

By reducing product concentration but increasing bath frequency, the number of ulcerated lesions for cows trimmed in October 2016 fell to just 25, less than one-third of what it was the year prior. The percent of lame cows was cut in half to just 10.98. Furthermore, most lame cows on trim day are not as severe now and treated with less permanent damage to the pedal bone and flexor tendon.

Hoof-trimming data can also justify the need to switch products or suppliers. When one farm executed a weekly footbath routine, it cleaned up its interdigital dermatitis and improved the severity of DD but not the number of occurrences. They then increased the footbath to two to three times weekly, and the amount of DD lesions dropped from 28 to 10.

Five months later, however, the dairyman changed copper sulphate suppliers after seeing a spike in DD lesions – they more than doubled a few months prior. He also cut the footbath back to once a week. Within three months, lesion numbers dropped to just four small warts with no wraps required.

The producer showed this data to the first copper sulphate supplier to explain why he was no longer purchasing product from him. The data clearly proved which product was better.

Hoof health data may even be useful in deciding which cows to cull. Is there a repeat offender? Trimmers might mark a problem cow as “high maintenance, do not breed.” Hoof problems coupled with other concerns like high somatic cell count could be grounds for dismissal from the herd.

Dairy operations actively monitoring hoof health data and making adjustments based on that data are improving hoof health and effectively managing lameness in their herds. Stay on top of developing issues by proactively addressing the data. It can help you make money-saving management decisions.  end mark

Keith Sather
  • Keith Sather

  • Dairy Nutritionist/Owner
  • KS Dairy Consulting Inc.
  • Email Keith Sather

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