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Rethinking lameness

Vic Daniel Published on 20 March 2012

0512pd_daniel_1After more than 28 years working as a hoof trimmer in the dairy industry and, like many others, seeing the many changes within the dairy industry, I think a simple question has to be asked: “Why is lameness increasing as an issue?”

The answer is the modern dairy industry still has not recognized the requirements for the hoof to function “normally.”



Despite all the advances in technology promoting animal productivity through cow comfort – such as barn stall design, ventilation, water supply, etc. – lameness has become the number one animal welfare issue for the dairy industry. In order for the cow’s hoof to function normally, certain requirements are needed.

These are: genetics allowing adequate feet and leg structure, sound nutrition and minimal stress. The most important, though, is an environment that will allow the sole of the hoof to shed, enabling the outer walls to wear, creating a functional shape to provide the animal a comfortable gait.

There are three components to the claw itself. The outer walls, being hardest and weight-bearing, absorb the least amount of moisture. The white line that binds the sole to the outer walls is weakest and absorbs the most amount of moisture. Finally, the sole, which is medium for both strength and moisture absorption.

The sole of the claw is the key to normal function, as it is designed to “shed” hoof material as the hoof grows in a cycle of “growth” versus “wear” rate. In a normal environment of pasture, dirt and grasslands, shedding occurs naturally and the sole is generally three to eight millimetres above the outer walls of the claw.

However, our current trend toward confinement systems, such as freestalls with concrete floors allowing animal mobility, create a very moist environment for the cow’s hoof due to animal excrement on the alleyways. This moisture prevents the sole from drying and shedding.


0512pd_daniel_2Therefore, the buildup of the sole becomes the weight-bearing portion, not the outer walls.

As the sole or claws become uneven, the pedal bone or P3 can bruise the corium (the quick) of the foot, due to concussion of the hoof on the concrete floor.

That bruise, called a hemorrhage, over time can become an ulcer that negates animal well-being and farm profit.

In a tiestall we have the reverse. A dry hoof environment lacking mobility allows the sole to build up and, by the force of compression, form the same hemorrhage, which can lead into an ulcer.

I advise, from a biomechanical point of view, that the key to good hoof trimming is the technique of “trimming on time.” In other words, when it is the right time to trim your dairy herd to reduce lameness.

As an early adopter of computer recording of foot health (starting my third year using Hoof Supervisor), I have been able to benchmark all my herds.


I have developed scheduling strategies to target the elimination of ulcers as the number one or number two most dominant lesion to the third or fourth position lesion rank in a herd.

Many of my herds have been adjusted by a four-week to six-week- earlier schedule time with very positive results that have made the farm money.

A six-month herd with a 15 percent herd ulcer rate trimmed six weeks earlier drops to a 5 percent cow ulcer rate with reduced severity.

A challenge mark being offered by Dr. Temple Grandin is to reduce lameness in dairy herds to 10 percent and below. Using Grandin’s challenge mark, I have developed a simple economic index for my clients called TCI (trimmer cost index).

The number of cows x TBP (trim base price per cow) = 100 percent x COT (cost of treatment – wraps, blocks, etc.) as a percent. Using the 10 percent mark of the herd cost as a goal gives a TCI of 1.1.

As an example, using a 50-cow herd, my TBP is $15 so, 50 cows x TBP = $750. Multiply that figure by COT at 10 percent = $75. That gives the farm a bill target of $825 ($750 plus $75).

Let us say the value of the COT was based on three blocks and five wraps. This means the average price per cow trim is $16.50 trimmer cost.

This figure signifies that the trim time is the maximum time the farm can successfully keep lameness to below 10 percent in a herd and source lesions that, over time, allow lameness to occur. This saved the farm approximately $3,500 in lost productivity.

If we take the same 50-cow herd and extend the time period by six to eight weeks, allowing more biomechanical damage to occur, the index works as follows: 50 head x TBP = $750 (no change) x COT (10 blocks, 15 wraps) $275 = a 36 percent COT, giving a TCI of 1.36 or $20.50 cost per cow.

This index shows a significant increase in lameness due to more treatments, which were required to fix more damage, thus costing the farm approximately $3,500 in productivity.


These two cost comparisons required no change in trimmer, barn, feed, ventilation etc.; however, it does change time management to a positive return.

Farm managers need to abandon viewing hoof trimming as a cost they are trying to save money on and switch to a return-on-investment attitude. This requires time management and monies to create a positive return on successful hoof health management.

For every dollar my clients spend, they get a $3 return on a 1.1 TCI. Healthier hooves allow the trimmer to get more cows through per day and find more of those subclinical lameness cows.

By using computer technology and successful programs that have inspired several provincial hoof health projects, we can learn many things about foot health. Alberta, British Columbia and now Ontario are creating a database of foot health that will be able to demonstrate the effects on animal well-being.

As the project coordinator for the Ontario Dairy Hoof Health Project, I am pleased to see the enthusiasm by many of our clients who have volunteered their herds for evaluation.

The Ontario project has 12 trimmers involved. All herds must be registered and on milk recording with CanWest DHI.

Our goal is to assess more than 300 dairy herds and 30,000 head of dairy cattle using computer technology standardized evaluation of location lesion identification and severity scoring.

This training, designed by the Alberta group, has been given to the trimmers in the BC group and now Ontario.

These trimmers, who record hoof health, are united in their observations and training. They will provide the required raw data volume and integrity to create on-farm lameness reduction strategies that are relevant to the individual farm.

This will be achieved by creating a database assessing environmental commonalities for lameness or minimal lameness, providing evidence of genetic or genomics influences showing sires that provide daughters above average for hoof health and providing data researchers with long-term data.

As animal welfare and consumerism continue linking together, creating plans to reduce lameness will be essential. A complete team approach requiring the farm, veterinarian, nutrition consultant and records by the hoof trimmer will create a positive hoof health and protect the emblem of Dairy Farmers of Canada.  PD

TOP RIGHT: About to be trimmed on time, the outside (lateral claw) of this hoof is overgrown at the sole horn area.

MIDDLE RIGHT: The same claw with excess horn removed revealed an underlying hemorrhage, saving the farm $500 if this hoof had not been trimmed and developed an ulcer.

BOTTOM RIGHT: A hoof being treated for an ulcer because the same overgrowth shown above was not trimmed on time. Photos courtesy of Vic Daniel.

Vic Daniel
Hoof Trimmer
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