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Keep the facts straight: Simple hoof health data for effective management decisions

Karl Burgi for Progressive Dairy Published on 19 October 2020

Hoof lesion recording is imperative for effectively managing a dairy farm. Managers must make decisions based on cow history every day, including breeding, treatment and culling decisions.

Simple and accurate data allows the decision-making process to be much more efficient, saving the manager time (which we all could use more of). Simpler data makes it easier to analyze seasonal trends, days in milk (DIM) trends and trends within each lactation. Additionally, it makes it easier to monitor the farm’s progress with lameness recovery. Claw horn lesion identification systems play a crucial role in ensuring straightforward, valuable data is entered into the dairy management software.

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In my travels around the world, I have visited many farms with inaccurate, inefficient or a complete lack of hoof health records. Because of this, we have developed a claw horn lesion recording chart to aid hoof care technicians in recording accurate hoof health information in the simplest way possible.

This diagram visually outlines the three most common claw horn lesions observed around the world – sole ulcers, white lines and toe ulcers – and includes on which limb and hoof they are most observed. Infectious lesions that should also be recorded chuteside include digital dermatitis and foot rot.

Claw horn lesion recording chart

Together, these five lesions account for 95% of all lameness on modern dairy farms. Realistically, a goal of zero percent lameness is unattainable; however, we have set lesion occurrence goals for producers. These rates are as follows: sole ulcers (less than 2%), white-line lesions (less than 4%), toe ulcers (zero percent), digital dermatitis (4%) and foot rot (less than 1%).

Some important things to note about this claw horn lesion recording system:

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1. Severity or stage of lesion is not recorded. Severity of the lesion is not nearly as important as identifying the correct lesion. Severe lesions will have more re-checks or follow-up treatments. Acute lesions diagnosed early and accurately do not repeat. These cows will not become lame and stay lame. The only lesion observed where a severity should be recorded is digital dermatitis on the 5-point M-scale system.

Digital dermatitis M-stage of severity

2. The hoof in which the lesion is observed on is not recorded. Lesions as they are described are always on a specific hoof. If data is accurate, the consultant or the technician on-farm will know exactly where the lesion has occurred.

3. Lesion treatment is not recorded or included on dataset. There is little value in recording treatment method for the dataset. Protocols for each farm should never vary within the lesion or within the treatment. If treatment methods are ineffective, protocols must be re-evaluated and changed.

4. Only one claw horn lesion and one infectious lesion is recorded per limb. Simple data is the goal. Because of this, only one claw horn lesion and one infectious lesion should be recorded per limb. It is up to the technician to decide which lesions to record. The most severe lesions must take priority over other lesions.

You’ve got the data – now what? Most dairy management software and hoof trimming software systems allow for simple analytic data including number of chute visits, seasonality of lesions and hoof care records as they apply to DIM. As a consultant, it is very easy to assess the information presented in this simple format to identify bottlenecks, adjust hoof care timing and hoof bath protocol. Roger Olson, Zinpro Corporation consultant, has worked with several farms using this system of data collection.

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White Line Lesion

“With 95-plus percent of lameness being associated with these five main lesions, the producer is going to get their biggest bang for their buck by focusing on, fixing and then preventing the biggest lesion affecting their farm first. Maybe sole ulcers are an issue, so we know we need to focus on why cows are standing. Perhaps we have a white-line issue, so we know to focus our attention on flooring or animal handling.

Sole Ulcer

In addition, dairymen need to monitor the big five lesions to make sure all lesions are staying in tolerable ranges. Things do happen (employee changes, hoof trimmers may have some procedural drift, concrete erodes, overcrowding, nutrition changes), and many other real-life issues get in the way. We have found with more complexity, more mistakes occur. People lose interest, which results in inconsistency of data, and some even stop recording altogether. I personally want to get 100 percent accurate data for 95 percent of the lesions affecting lameness, compared to getting more information with less accuracy. It’s much better to have total confidence in all of the data that has been recorded.”

Implementation of this system on several farms has shown that by simplifying the lesion recording, we have more effective data to work with while being less time-consuming to evaluate and identify lameness issues. The future of accurate and simple data can be added into various analytical dashboards.

These dashboard systems can benchmark various aspects within multiple farms, comparing how various lameness issues affect milk production, reproduction, longevity, heat stress impacts and overcrowding. Simple claw horn lesion recording ensures seamless entry into dairy herd management software programs, provides an accurate dataset to analyze and guarantees confidence in daily management decisions.  end mark

Karl Burgi
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