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Managing thin soles and overtrimming: They go hand in hand

Brad Ingram for Progressive Dairy Published on 01 June 2021
Soles experiencing over-wear

The sole on a cow’s claw protects it from outside harm, similar to the sole of a shoe on a human foot. Having thin soles is similar to wearing thin or worn shoe soles in that the feet are more vulnerable to ground surfaces when they lack that extra layer of protection.

Since cows are on their feet for extended periods, excessive sole wear, linked with overtrimming of claws, can lead to significant complications in everyday activities, as well as dips in dairy production.



Thin soles make claws more prone to lameness, abscess, toe ulcers or other injuries. Dairy cows must maintain healthy claws to optimize milk production and cow comfort.

Signs of thin soles

When soles wear thin, there are a couple of things dairy farmers may start to notice:

  • Discolouration or bruising: Soles experiencing over-wear are visibly different than healthy soles. The discolouration will be noticeable and purplish in colour like a bruise on a human body. If this happens, trimmers will take off a little less hoof with each trimming session to help soles reform.

  • Tenderness: If a trimmer suspects soles are wearing thin, they can push their thumb on the sole. If the sole indents from minimal thumb pressure, the soles are too thin.

Main factors affecting sole thickness

Many factors can contribute to the thickness of soles. Some include an overcrowded barn, abrasive floors, large sand particles, long walking distances and even overtrimming. When trimming procedures and protocols are in place, a cow has a better chance of maintaining a healthy sole thickness.

The minimum heel depth should measure about 1.5 inches, give or take, and the dorsal wall, from the toe to coronary band, about 3.25 inches.

When thin soles are present, a cow may develop an infection or can become lame. To avoid these issues, farmers can employ other techniques to protect the soles when they wear dangerously thin.


Rubber blocks for extra comfort and support

As soles and horns form at a rate of 0.25 inch per month, blocking is a helpful treatment option to use when claws are thin or over-worn. Hoof care professionals can adhere a block on a healthy claw to elevate and restrict the affected claw so that it heals. Blocking will reduce wear and give the claw more time to form horn.

Rubber blocks provide the necessary traction and cushion hooves need for a dairy cow to improve claw horn quality and stay comfortable. These blocks are ideal for lameness cases caused by thin soles, where an affected claw does not need the elevation provided by a standard block. Cows experience normal locomotion as the horn regrows.

Depending on the cow’s sole thickness, there are different block styles that hoof care professionals can use to block the claw and increase a cow’s comfort level. A majority of hoof care professionals utilize two-part polyurethane adhesives to bond both wood and rubber blocks. Some have a fast, 30-second set time to keep blocks in place quickly.

Other than blocking, farmers can also lay rubber in walkways and holding areas to help prevent thin soles or provide comfort to cows with thinner soles. The rubber surface adds a level of give as the animals travel throughout the barn.

With the right tools, dairy farmers can help ensure the comfort of their animals and maintain the productivity of the herd. Since the last thing a dairy farmer needs is a dip in production, farmers will see positive results keeping their cows’ hoof health in mind.  end mark

PHOTO: Soles experiencing over-wear are visibly different than healthy soles. The discolouration will be noticeable and purplish in colour like a bruise on a human body. Photo courtesy of Vettec Inc.


Brad Ingram
  • Brad Ingram

  • Midwest Regional Sales Manager and Bovine Hoof Care Expert
  • Vettec Inc.