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Lameness and cattle standards

What were the key takeaway messages from the Total Dairy Seminar 2019?

September this year saw the first intake for a five-day intensive course on the theory and practice of cattle hoof trimming. This is an initiative between the Royal Agricultural University and the Cattle Hoof Care Standards Board. The five-day module is the first step in improving hoof trimming with ongoing assessment, certification and support and it is intended that veterinary practices will have more confidence in the observations of hoof trimmers. This course was internally and externally moderated and a register of people completing the standard maintained. Some veterinary practices engage with hoof trimmers and exchange understanding about hoof issues on a farm, but an important element is for the vet and the trimmer to meet face to face. This is one of the aims of everyone looking to raise standards. Nick Bell has been auditing hoof trimmers on-farm and the initial 20 participants have demonstrated a high level of ability. More audits are due and much has been learned from the initiative that builds on the elements of the Healthy Feet Programme.

From October, the Red Tractor scheme will include mobility and lameness within the herd health plan and the point is made that the plan will need to be useful to the farmer and not a paper exercise. During discussions at the Cattle Hoof Care Standards Board CPD day, it was emphasised that the farmer needs to see the hoof problems on the farm. This enables the farmer to understand the value of trimming hooves in order to find any problems and engage with appropriate early treatment. Records of trimming visits are recorded by trimmers on computers nowadays and there is value in sharing assessments with the farm veterinary practice. Some trimmers are also mobility monitors and it is intended that this dual role will be expanded and improvements in hoof health for a herd able to be shown with fewer lesions and fewer cows with walking difficulties.

Gerard Cramer (University of Minnesota) has been busy explaining how industry-level programmes can facilitate changes at the herd level to reduce lameness incidence.

As well as delivering masterclasses and webinars for veterinary surgeons, Gerard gave two workshops and two presentations to delegates at the Total Dairy Seminar. The theme was that achieving 0 percent lame cows is not complicated. It was noted that in the large conference hall, with several screens showing many pictures of hooves and detailed analysis of data, he was not wearing shoes. A hoof specialist with a lameness problem, perhaps? At the Standards Board CPD day he confided that he prefers socks only when walking on carpet. However, in the yard at the Royal Agricultural University farm he was totally within his comfort zone discussing the use of hoof blocks with the hoof trimmers. Legs had been sourced from an abattoir and attached to a frame with a camera showing the detail onto a screen.

As discussions took place and trimming activities demonstrated, by Gerard and attending trimmers, everyone standing around was able to participate. There is considerable practical debate about the correction of specific hoof problems and the need to share awareness was evident. All agreed that the hoof trimming facilities available on-farm have a direct impact on the detection of hoof problems.

In aiming for 0 percent lame cows, Gerard emphasised the value of making decisions based on data. Data enables the management team of veterinary surgeon, trimmer and farmer to determine if lesions have changed, to monitor the trimming programme and to create management lists. An example was given of a 600-cow herd with the goal to trim each cow twice a year and trim heifers post fresh calving. The records showed that there was a peak in lesions at 140 days in milk and at 280 days with 50 percent due to repeat cases carried over from the previous lactation. Of the sole ulcer cases, 43 percent were treated in the previous lactation. The management team need to decide whether the cows were being trimmed according to the plan, in terms of timing and frequency, and whether the types of lesions were changing when the same periods, year on year, were compared. The early detection and treatment of lesions reduces repeat cases.

The management of foot bathing and the cleanliness of walkways is needed to control digital dermatitis and data is the guide to the frequency of foot bathing. As much as necessary is the headline. It is important to focus on heifers because the disease can be carried for life if not treated fully. Footbath design, so that the cow steps through the chemical and fully immerses each hoof, is a practical consideration together with allowing the cow time to tread carefully and slowly to give adequate immersion time. Mobility monitoring, every one to two weeks, allows early detection of hoof horn lesions. The aim is to treat early and to prevent chronically lame cows.

The speaker emphasised the need for a team approach to achieving lameness-free herds. By standing back and understanding the data, decisions across the whole management of the herd can be based on fact rather than feeling. Monitoring progress and sharing successes with all involved continues to develop enthusiasm for good and accurate practices. Benchmarking the performance of herds provides a valuable comparison tool for the farmer to gauge the severity of the herd lameness and leads to change in the detailed day-to-day management.

Various discussions took place throughout the Total Dairy Seminar and Marina Von Keyserlingk (University of British Columbia) led an interactive session on “imagining the future dairy industry”. Delegates discussed issues in small groups and the observations were brought together as an overview. The phrase “better information politics” was noted and explained that politicians and journalists need to be better informed about dairy herd practices. However, there was also a strong view that the information needs to be true and accurate and not just promote the “best bits”. It was highlighted by the convenor that there are issues that would be difficult for the public to accept, with snatching of calves after birth and the use of hormones to control fertility mentioned. Some of the delegates were from overseas as well as the UK, and there is concern about action groups, targeting farms and commenting on social media, that makes day-to-day farming activity more stressful.

The exhibition area included a variety of commercial and technical information as expected. Carmarthen Veterinary Investigation Centre has established a Centre for Extensively Managed Livestock to support farmers with animals that are not easily inspected for signs of ill health, typically grazing uplands, mountains and moors. The top three priority diseases identified by farmers are liver fluke, sheep scab and tick-borne diseases. Surveillance and diagnostic information is available online via the APHA Vet Gateway. The TB Advisory Service was also promoted, offering free support and advisory visits to farms within the High Risk and Edge areas of England. The service runs until 2020 and is funded by Defra and the Rural Development Programme for England.

For more information about the TB Advisory Service, call: 01306 779410

Richard Gard


Following a 16-year apprenticeship with Beecham, Richard established a project management and development consultancy and writes regular contributions for the veterinary press.

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