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Solving hoof care problems: Consultant shares footpath tips

Ken Vos Published on 31 January 2014

Lameness and hoof care issues on a dairy farm drastically impact day-to-day cow comfort and can, therefore, cause significant losses in a herd’s productivity and profitability.

Effects of lameness are far-reaching, decreasing milk yield and reproductive performance and increasing vet costs, labour costs and the need for extra hoof trimming. Costs attributable to lameness average $300 to $400 per incidence, according to a 1997 study.

As a member of my company’s outreach effort to dairy farmers, my job is specifically to solve or reduce a dairy’s hoof care problems.



I analyze lameness issues in herds located in Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota and develop on-farm protocols to aid the dairy farmer in increasing cow comfort and, as a result, cow productivity.

Since lameness is a complicated and multifaceted problem, my first step in consulting with a dairy is to review the typical causes of lameness:

  • Review the facility design. Are cows standing too much?
  • Is overcrowding affecting the time each cow spends lying down?
  • Are the walking surfaces uneven?
  • Is there a lack of hoof maintenance trimming?
  • Are there any signs of excessive stress on cows?
  • Any evidence of improper nutrition?
  • Is there an inappropriate ration balance when transitioning fresh cows?
  • Do the cows get sufficient exercise providing proper hoof wear and good hoof blood circulation?
  • Any evidence of poor hoof hygiene?
  • Is there a protocol to prevent infection problems?
  • Does the dairy use a footbath?
  • Is there a spray protocol?
  • Are too many cows passing through the footbath between changes, resulting in decreased solution efficacy?

Since each farm and herd is different in size and economics, I first score the herd for lameness, hoof warts, hoof rot and trimming maintenance issues to determine the scope and size of the herd’s problem.

Most of the problems I encounter in my territory are hairy hoof warts and hoof rot, which in some situations can affect 40 percent of the herd.

After I finish my evaluation, I create a recommendation specific to what the individual herd requires. Before treatment begins, we encourage the dairy producer to accurately determine the current average milk production per cow as a baseline for comparison purposes.

This lets them see the improvement resulting from implementing a good hoof care protocol. In my experience, I have seen a 1- to 2-kilogram improvement in daily milk production per infected cow.

Where possible, a hoof bath is recommended, as it provides consistent and thorough treatment of the entire hoof. However, if the site logistics don’t favour a hoof bath, I find that consistent chemical spraying of hooves can reduce the problem.

Most dairies with hoof baths have manual mixing systems where they fill and drain concrete or plastic hoof baths by hand. However, dairy farmers are appropriately concerned about the effectiveness of their hoof baths when using this method.

Treatment solutions vary with the number of cows, manure management and types of chemicals used and need to be carefully mixed and closely monitored.

During my hands-on observation of a complete milking, I systematically test the pH to determine the integrity of the footbath solution. Surprisingly, the number of cows able to pass through before solution effectiveness declines can vary from 150 to 560 cows.


Without a specific determination of when each solution should be changed, dairy farmers will not know at what point the treatment becomes ineffective.

Also, on large dairies of 1,000+ cows, a hoof bath often needs to be changed during milking, a time of the day when available labour is at a premium.

An automated hoof bath system can properly time the mixing, filling and drainage of the hoof bath according to the specific issues affecting that farm, ensuring optimal hoof bath performance.

An automated system saves time, decreases the need for labour and protects workers from unneeded exposure to chemicals.

A pre-bath with appropriate detergent chemicals can also increase hoof bath treatment efficacy by removing hoof-carried organic matter. Locating the pre-bath about 10 feet before the treatment footbath allows cows to shake off the pre-bath solution.

The result is a cleaner footbath, less dilution, better exposure of the hoof to the treatment and cost savings because of the extended life of the chemicals.

When working on one of my client’s herds, I recommend a buffered pH of 1 for the starting footbath solution.

Then I showed the farmer how to monitor and adjust the solution throughout the milking to make sure it doesn’t rise above a pH of 4.5. In this way, I stretched the use of the solution while maintaining optimal effectiveness of the chemicals.

A 5 percent copper sulfate formula has been used in footbaths for years, but I recommend a newer chemical formulation which holds the copper sulfate in solution.

This allows reduction of the copper sulfate concentration to 2.5 percent, making the flushed hoof bath more environmentally friendly. The new formulations also maintain an effective pH longer.


Another great side-benefit is that copper sulfate dries the warts and helps to harden the hoof, protecting it from stone penetrations and hoof ulcers.

Initial treatments of a herd with high incidence of hairy hoof warts will require treatments five days per week. Upon analysis of the herd after 45 days, the frequency can often be reduced to a maintenance protocol of three days per week.

I usually notice a dramatic reduction in hoof warts and hoof rot in 45 days with continuing improvement after 90 days. It is not unusual to reduce lameness by 60 to 75 percent with this protocol.

My company’s focus on the health and welfare of the cow drives my daily work to fight hoof problems and lameness. I like cows: I like to keep them comfortable, and I like showing the dairy farmer that hoof sprays and baths are a cost-effective treatment that beats early culling. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Ken Vos

Ken Vos
Hoof Care Specialist