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Lameness: More complicated than it first appears

Tom Palen Published on 31 January 2014

Every dairy herd experiences lameness to one degree or another. The difference between a good healthy hoof and chronic problems is sometimes less than one thinks.

The farmer and nutritionist must have a working relationship with the hoof care person. Records should be documented and kept to discuss as needed with the farm management team (i.e., farmer, nutritionist and veterinarian).

Close to 90 percent of lameness involves the foot and most of this in the claw area of the rear hoof. Therefore, not only do nutrition and feeding management cause lameness but also improper weight-bearing factors.



A cow needs to stand squarely on a good hoof in order to feel healthy and happy. Since the front legs are joined to the body differently than the hind legs, the hind feet tend to be less cushioned from trauma than the front feet.

Other factors that contribute to more wear and tear are environmental. Confinement on concrete causes more wear than earthen housing.

This is why cattle – especially heifers – which are moved from pasture to confinement often experience lameness. It should also be noted that due to the abrasive nature of concrete, the hoof will have fast (excessive) growth, which can lead to lameness.

Because concrete is abrasive, we need to make the rest area as comfortable as possible. Cows that spend more time lying in stalls have significantly better claw health.

This fact is exaggerated for heifers who also tend to lie less in stalls because of fear of aggressive behaviour by mature cows.

The same can occur for newly moved or grouped mature cows. Add to this the overcrowding some farms have, and these problems will be worsened.

The “fewer-stalls-than-cows” thinking may need to be re-evaluated. Cows need time and opportunity to rest. Some researchers are actually suggesting 10 to 12 percent more stalls than cows in order to give cows more choice and encourage cows to lie down more.

Research from Holland has also indicated that too high of a curb height (more than 6 to 7 inches), as well as too little lunging space will lead to more lameness in herds.

The summer months may be over, but keep in mind that hot cows stand more and also tend to eat fewer meals per day, leading to more slug feasting and therefore more nutritional laminitis.


Often cows try to avoid sunlight and may remain on concrete longer in hot weather.

Concrete is unforgiving. It is very abrasive to the hoof, especially new concrete. One can lessen this effect in new barns by dragging scraper blades or concrete blocks over new concrete before cows come in the barn.

It should also be noted that wet concrete is 75 to 80 percent more abrasive than dry because it moistens and softens the hoof, causing greater wear.

Most barns have some sort of grooving to give cows more traction, therefore reducing slippage and excessive wear.

Some U.S. and European farms are starting to use rubber belting on walkways and in front of feed areas, which cows really seem to enjoy using. It can reduce the lameness and hoof wear caused by concrete.

Always remember that there are a variety of causes for cattle lameness including disease agents, nutrition, cow comfort, cow genetics, etc., which lead to problems.

My best advice would be to ask your management team to investigate your situation closely before looking for a quick fix.

Problems are often more complicated than they appear on the surface. Treatment and solutions can be found with the help of your nutritionist, hoof trimmer and veterinarian team.  PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.
Tom Palen
Tom Palen
Triple “P” Consulting