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Modernize dairy buildings for better hoof health

Raymond Boulais for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 May 2018
An example of a nice hoof trimming installation

With the goal of increased efficiencies, many dairy producers are considering renovations or expanding their current buildings. The decisions they make today will affect the hoof health of the herd for decades to come.

As a hoof trimming professional, I want to share with you common layout and management mistakes I see most frequently.



Cleaning system

A specific order to the manure scraping system is essential. Cleaning should begin with healthy animals. This means starting with the youngest and ending with the older lactating cows to avoid the pathogens present in manure and the transmission from the oldest animals to the most fragile animals.

It’s important to remember: Manure is a vector of contagious bacteria and, just like milking procedures, sequential handling of manure helps prevent the transmission of disease and cross contamination.

Studies have shown heifers infected at a young age with digital dermatitis will have a high recurrence rate later during their productive life.

I regularly observed animals less than 1 year old with digital dermatitis when this very simple principle is not respected. Moreover, it will jeopardize the health of hooves for several years.

Preventative hoof trimming of growing heifers must be considered and planned with your trimmer.



Transfer from tiestall to freestall is a stressful event for animals, and it can especially affect the feet. Horn wear increases as feet are exposed to disease because cows move freely in pens.

A footbath is an essential part of a freestall barn to control infectious foot diseases. I strongly believe every new freestall barn must have a proper footbath strategically placed with proper water access to make changing out solution easy.

At approximately 40ºC, the temperature is more pleasant for cows; therefore their flow through the solution is better. By improving the flow, cows will not stall in the bath and pass feces, which contaminates the water and decreases efficacy.

For six years now, scientists at the University of Wisconsin have determined the dimensions of the ideal footbath (see Figures 1 and 2).

foot bath

foot bath


Although recognized by veterinarians and hoof trimmers, this concept seems to be ignored by builders for unknown reasons. During my visits, I often see footbaths that are too short (6 feet) or oversized with a lot of wasted solution.

If a pre-bath with water is considered, it must be at least 8 feet before the disinfectant footbath. The downfall of placing it adjacent to the footbath is: The feet soaked with water will dilute the disinfectant after multiple passages, and animals have a tendency to defecate in the main footbath after soaking in the pre-bath. Therefore, pre-bath usage is controversial.

Footbath solutions consist of chemicals, products that must be handled with care and used according to recommended dosages.

Automated footbaths have an automatic disinfectant dispenser with self-draining and filling capacity every 200 animals, thus providing safe manipulation of potentially toxic substances and improving cleanliness of the footbath.

When automation is not possible, disinfectants must be handled with care and located near the hot and cold water faucets as well as a floor drain. This will help fill and clean the tank faster.

Treatment system

When designing a barn, find a strategic place for a trimming chute. The investment is worth it, even if the square footage required is expensive.

The location of the chute is one thing, but I suggest to keep some space to install barriers and a holding pen providing a good cow flow for the trimmer. You’ll gain efficiency.

With robotic installations, the trimming area must be far from the milking system because trimming can be a very stressful moment that could break the cows’ routine. Move the trimming site away from the milking area to avoid the association between stress and milking.


From my experience, the choice of flooring (concrete or rubber) in the aisles does not have a great influence on the frequency of hoof lesions. However, it is important to choose a slip-resistant surface.

In my opinion, slippery floors cause premature wear of hoof horn with possible irreversible damage. Just like a hairdresser, the professional trimmer will cut the horn off but cannot glue it back on.

Sharp turns on concrete are a killer for abnormal or excessive horn wear; therefore it is important to design the barn to allow a natural cow flow.

Introduction to the new building

Once upon a time, it was common for cows to be out in green pasture during our short Canadian summer. Letting cows out in pasture for the first time in spring was quite spectacular.

Cattle were running and jumping, sometimes breaking fences and, in the worst scenarios, even getting hurt. One secret to success when introducing animals into a new building is to avoid abrupt changes. When the animals arrive, it is important to minimize the space available to avoid injuries and premature horn wear.

During the first few days, do not hesitate to put litter in the aisles in order to minimize slippage and falls. This addition will also have the advantage of reducing the abrasive effect of the new concrete floor on the hooves.

Ration adjustments

In the months prior to introducing animals to a freestall, adjust ration trace minerals to improve hoof horn quality. A well-balanced ration containing a good level of fibre will promote better hoof health.

These dietary modifications will make it easier for lactating cows to adapt to their new environment.


Every topic discussed in this article should be considered during your decision-making process while building a new facility. It will impact herd productivity in the short and long term.

Foot care is often neglected, considering its economic and well-being importance. Money-wise, a medium-sized farm should consider investing a minimum of $35,000 for planning and prevention.

Problems associated with feet and limbs can quickly become a limiting factor in the profitability of a dairy business. It’s really important to be aware of it today and apply universally recognized principles. Prevention is better than cure.  end mark

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

PHOTO: An example of a nice hoof trimming installation. One single person must be able to perform the task safely for themselves and the animal. Photo provided by Raymond Boulais.

Raymond Boulais
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