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Steps taken to identify, address hoof health

Vic Daniel Published on 31 December 2012

The Ontario Dairy Hoof Health Project is a successful applicant for one of several projects mandated by the Agricultural Biosecurity Program (ABP). The project was funded by participating members of the Ontario Hoof Trimmers Guild, The Agricultural Adaptation Council, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, EastGen and Grandview Concrete Grooving.



The Ontario Dairy Hoof Health Project was created to investigate cases of dairy cattle lameness due to claw lesions from structural damage to and/or infections of hoof (claw) tissues.

The project’s short-term goals were to:

1. Educate hoof trimmers on lesion identification and recording, specifically digital dermatitis, risk analysis and control measures of bovine digital dermatitis.

2. Determine the current level and change in prevalence of bovine digital dermatitis in Ontario-based project herds.

3. Development of biosecurity protocols for controlling bovine digital dermatitis and subsequent lameness in Ontario dairy farms.


4. Develop a plan for the ongoing collection and monitoring of hoof health in Ontario.

5. Elevate awareness of bovine digital dermatitis and control strategies among dairy farmers and advisers in Ontario.

What the project achieved:

Twelve Ontario hoof trimmers received three days of training in standardized lesion identification and severity scoring using the Foot Atlas system designed by International Lameness Committee, with chuteside computer recording systems (Hoof Supervisor).

From August 2011 to July 2012, 335 farms with registered cattle that are milk recorded with CanWest DHI provided 24,045 individual cows identified with more than 49,000 health records events.

Two hundred and thirty-five general biosecurity surveys were returned for evaluation.


From June 28 to July 25, 2012, 29 intensive barn surveys including scoring hygiene of cattle and stalls, measuring ammonia levels, noting barn ventilation types, barn temperature, outside temperature and relative humidity on survey day, were completed.

Created an up-to-date database of hoof health in 335 dairy herds that is capable of further evaluations in barn environment, genetics and a provincial benchmark for inter- provincial comparisons that shows:

The prevalence of bovine digital dermatitis in 24,045 animals was 38 percent (4,448 cows with a minimum of one digital dermatitis lesion), and the prevalence of digital dermatitis in 280 herds with more than 50 percent of cows trimmed from August 2011 to July 2012 showed an average prevalence of 13.7 percent.

Surveyed herds’ bovine digital dermatitis prevalence ranged from 0 to 62 percent of cows. The best 25 percent of surveyed herds had 1.9 percent and lower, and the worst 25 percent of herds were 22 percent and higher.

Trim records and DHI data from Ontario and British Columbia have been sent to Alberta. As of July 31, 2012, 578 herds in three provinces had contributed data to the Alberta Dairy Hoof Health Project’s hoof health database, providing trim records for more than 73,000 individual cows.

0113ca daniel tb 1(See Table 1). In Alberta, 49.6 percent of these cows had one or more of the 14 claw lesions being evaluated by hoof trimmers.

In British Columbia, 59.8 percent of cows trimmed had one or more lesions while, in Ontario, only 38.1 percent had lesions.

Hoof lesion data collected by hoof trimmers in Alberta and British Columbia indicates that bovine digital dermatitis (BDD) is by far the most common lesion among the cows examined.

Next, in order of prevalence, are four lesions related to claw horn disruption: sole ulcer, white line lesion, sole hemorrhage and toe ulcer.

These observations from western Canada and Ontario estimate the true scope of hoof lesions in our dairy herds and identify those that need to be immediately addressed.

Some examples of the Ontario findings showed there was a significant increase in digital dermatitis associated with the increased use of a footbath, having heifers with digital dermatitis prior to calving, an increased number of purchased cattle or a higher number of farms where cattle were purchased and freestall use.

There was no significant association between digital dermatitis prevalence and cattle that spent time outside, the number of times stalls were cleaned per day and trimmers disinfecting tools between hooves, cows and farms.

Data collected by Ontario hoof trimmers through this project helped to draft the following recommendations.

1. Bovine digital dermatitis is a 20-year-old epidemic, having a high prevalence in Ontario dairy herds, with many dairy cattle exposed to the disease on a day-to-day basis.

The survey assessment shows dairy producers and hoof trimmers with little standardized biosecurity measures being applied. We recommend a coordinated effort by governing bodies to investigate creating standard biosecurity protocols regarding this disease.

2. By using the Foot Atlas as a standard for lesion identification and location, the data shows clearly a linear risk factor according to the zone of the foot:

Zone 10 – between and above the heel bulbs, had a 79.0 percent infection rate

Zone 0 – the interdigital space between the toes. had a 16.82 percent infection rate

Zone 11 – between the toes at the front of the foot, had a 3.21 percent infection rate

Zone 9 – above the foot and below the dewclaws, had a 0.83 percent infection rate

We recommend that a four-point inspection of the hoof area be part of that standardized biosecurity protocol.

3. Low-prevalence digital dermatitis herds had fewer new animals from other sources introduced in the herd. Herds introducing new cattle from many sources showed a very significant statistical indicator for high digital dermatitis prevalence.

We recommend a herd policy for managing animal introduction into the herd as part of that standardized biosecurity protocol.

4. Herds in the high-prevalence group of digital dermatitis showed that more than 50 percent of those herds had digital dermatitis in their heifer groups. We recommend that early detection for digital dermatitis in young cattle be implemented as part of a standardized biosecurity protocol.

5. There is a significant association between footbath use to prevent infectious foot disease and digital dermatitis prevalence – but we do not know why. We recommend strongly that further research on the utility and effectiveness of footbaths be examined.

6. We recommend the continuation of hoof health data collection.

The most significant association of this project was that the Ontario Dairy Hoof Health Project achieved a communication focus for dairy producers and their hoof trimmers to have their observations be considered.

This will help researchers and veterinarians as well as other industry partners in creating lameness reduction strategies in coordination with producers and hoof trimmers.

The next steps are to see how to incorporate the data into a national database currently being considered by Canadian Dairy Network.

“To realize the full potential of hoof lesion data that is being collected on farms by professional hoof trimmers, it is very important that the data flow into a national database such as the Canadian Dairy Herd Improvement database,” said Blair Murray with Canadian Dairy Network.

“Once it is part of the national system, hoof health data can be used for genetic improvement and calculation of bull proofs, and become part of the genetic improvement strategy to make dairy cows resistant to hoof problems and lameness.

As well, the data can be used for further research into hoof lesions and lameness and provide management information and reports to dairy farmers.”

A proposal has been submitted for funding under the Dairy Research Cluster 2 to move the Hoof Health Data into the national database and develop genetic evaluation programs and conduct genomic research. If this proposal is successful, the national hoof health database and genetic evaluations will hopefully begin to be developed later in 2013.

By initiating the first step of this project of measuring and recording the prevalence of lameness in dairy herds, we are on our way to finding ways to address this concern. Lameness did not occur because we didn’t care; it occurred because we didn’t measure.  PD

Vic Daniel serves as project coordinator for the Ontario Dairy Hoof Health Project. He is also director-at-large for the Hoof Trimmers Association, Inc.

Vic Daniel

Vic Daniel
Hoof trimmer
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