Hoof problems have adverse effects on both the dairy cow and the dairy farmer. It is therefore important to have a good understanding of these conditions and to significantly reduce them. Expert and professional hoof trimmer Rens Raat explains how a proactive approach can have a major impact.
In addition to being a hoof trimmer, Rens Raat is also a hoof advisor at Dutch Abeos Agricultural Services. The role of a hoof advisor was established to advise the dairy farmer on hoof problems, but also to sit down with the dairy farmer, veterinarian, and feed advisor to discuss directly what is needed to address the hoof problems. Nutrition also partly affects hoof problems, making the presence of a feed advisor important at such meetings.
Higher risk means more frequent trimming
Nutrition is, of course, not the sole determinant of hoof problems. With the advent of loose housing systems, cows stand and walk more in manure, increasing the risk of hoof problems, which means more frequent trimming is necessary. Although hoof problems primarily affect the hind legs, the front legs are almost always trimmed as well.
Traditionally, trimming was done two to three times a year, treating the entire group at once. Rens Raat is seeing a change in this practice: "Nowadays, it's more common for us to visit a farm every four to six weeks to trim small groups. Especially farms with robotic milking systems prefer this approach, but farms with milking parlors also opt for it. Treating the whole group at once creates a lot of chaos. Restlessness occurs in the barn. You can see that the cows hesitate to enter the robot, and milk production drops. By trimming small groups every four to six weeks, you maintain peace in the barn."
The small groups Raat refers to consist of cows that are approximately a hundred days into lactation, dry cows, lame cows, and cows that need to be ‘seen’ again after a previous treatment. "The advantage of this is that you see the cows earlier, can treat them immediately, and prevent a bigger problem. Waiting for the hoof trimmer turns a minor issue into a major one that is harder to correct. So make sure a lame cow is treated promptly."
Moving from only curative trimming to more frequent and comprehensive trimming is the trend now. Many cows are taken out of production early due to hoof problems, making trimming increasingly important. Various stakeholders in the dairy chain now require at least one certified hoof trimmer to trim the hooves of all dairy cows at least once a year. The dairy farmer can choose whether to have a professional do this or to obtain a certificate to do it themselves on their own farm. If due to inexperience they're unsure about trimming, the dairy farmer can always seek advice from the hoof trimmer.
From 25% to less than 5% lameness
It's known that the average lameness percentage per farm ranges between 20% and 25%. The question remains, 'What is lameness?' Lameness does not mean the same thing to everyone. For farmer A, a cow has to walk on three legs before it's considered 'lame,' whereas for farmer B, it's when a cow slightly pulls its leg. Despite differing views on lameness, the percentage needs to be reduced.
"It's difficult, but definitely possible to reduce the lameness percentage from 25% to below 5%. I was recently on a farm with 300 cows, of which only ten had a hoof block. On this farm, the freshly calved cows were milked separately, which is not possible everywhere. They were also very vigilant, and that's just incredibly important. The moment you see a lame cow, it should be treated immediately. What often happens is that the situation is observed for a few days, but that causes a decline in milk production, and the cow eats less, leading to a downward spiral. So the sooner you address the problem, the quicker the cow recovers."
Application by individual cow
As a hoof trimmer and advisor, Rens is involved in hoof health on a daily basis. "It's important that it happens and that it happens right. Lame cows simply need more care than cows with healthy hooves. It's essential to first clean the hooves (with water) and dry them mildly, so you can observe them better and avoid over-trimming. Not only on the hoof itself but also the interdigital space." Raat recommends applying a proven product, such as Intra Hoof-fit Gel or Intra Repiderma, being non-antibiotic and safe for humans, animals, and the environment.
"I recently switched to Intra Eco Tape, and it works very well. This is an environmental friendly, biodegradable tape that can dress four hooves per roll. For a hoof trimmer, the use is no different, but for a dairy farmer, this tape has an advantage in terms of the amount of bandages that end up in the manure pit or in the fields, which are all non-biodegradable. Like regular tape, Intra Eco Tape also needs to be removed from the hooves after three days for re-evaluation," Raat explains.
Preventive care between trimmings
The intervals between trimmings are crucial to keep the lameness percentage low. This can be achieved through group treatments. "A good example is a dairy farm where we recently started our new service: spraying. Intra Hoof-fit Spray is used for this. Every Saturday during milking, all hind hoofs are washed and sprayed within 30 minutes with a low pressure sprayer. This works efficiently, the cows quickly get used to it, and results are seen clearly. Where in the beginning on this farm I needed 6 to 7 rolls for about 15 cows during trimming, in the last 2 trimming sessions, only 2 cows needed a bandage. Preventive care yields good results."
Despite preventive measures, a cow can still suddenly become lame. Raat's urgent advice is to trim the cow immediately. "Don't wait for the hoof trimmer to visit for multiple cows. Waiting causes bigger problems that are harder or impossible to solve. I prefer to come for 1 cow that I can trim properly immediately rather than 5 cows with more advanced problems."
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