Promoting Optimal Foot and Leg Health

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Source: National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals – Dairy Cattle, Section 5.7

Lameness is a painful condition that results in reduced mobility, dry matter intake, and milk production as well as impaired reproduction and early culling (9). Prompt recognition, diagnosis, and early treatment not only minimize the welfare concerns surrounding lameness but also increase the likelihood of recovery and allow cows to produce to their full potential (9).

Education and training are needed to consistently identify injuries and lameness (9). Knowing the actual number of lame or injured cattle on one’s farm has been shown to motivate improvements (9). Establishing clear thresholds for improvement is an effective way to focus the farm’s efforts towards a goal and track continuous improvement over time. Thresholds can be set by individual farms or industry wide, including through an assurance program.8

How cows are housed and managed has a significant impact on the occurrence of lameness and leg injuries (9). Making targeted, manageable improvements that enhance cow comfort and increase resting time can effectively reduce rates of lameness and injuries (e.g., increase bedding quantity, change the stall base, groove crossover alleys) (9).

Research consistently demonstrates that having cows on pasture for even a short period of time significantly reduces the occurrence of lameness and injuries (6, 9). Pasture access can also result in an improvement in gait (in as little as 4 weeks, as an example) particularly if given during the day when cows are more active and motivated to graze (6).

Cattle are considered lame at a gait score of 3 or higher (on the 1–5 scale used in free stalls) and when they have 2 or more signs of lameness using the scoring tool for tie stalls (refer to Appendix E – Lameness Scoring Systems for Dairy Cows). Euthanasia should be considered for any lame animal that is not responding to treatment (refer to Section 7.1 – Decision Making and Criteria for Euthanasia).

REQUIREMENTS

Personnel must regularly observe cattle for signs of lameness or leg injuries, to diagnose and treat them quickly.

To minimize lameness and leg injuries, producers must set thresholds for the occurrence of lameness and leg injuries and take corrective actions when the thresholds are exceeded.

RECOMMENDED PRACTICES

  1. participate in gait scoring training and other professional development on lameness prevention
  2. review treatment and hoof trimming records at least annually with a veterinarian or other advisors
  3. aim to keep the occurrence of lameness ≤10%
  4. aim to keep the occurrence of leg injuries ≤10%
  5. design and maintain the most comfortable environment possible for cows to maximize resting times (e.g., wide stalls, reduced time standing waiting to be milked, prevent overcrowding) (6, 9)
  6. provide generous amounts of clean, dry bedding (the more the better and at least 5 cm [2 in]) to help prevent lameness and promote healing of injuries (6, 9)
  7. minimize exposure to wet, hard, or slippery floors to ensure cows can move comfortably in indoor environments (9)
  8. remove hazards from floors, yards, and laneways that may cause injury to claws, and eliminate, where possible, steps that cattle climb or descend in their daily activities
  9. aim to examine and treat cattle within 48 hours of when lameness is first detected (9)
  10. give cattle with mild lameness routine daytime access to pasture or deep bedded areas or sand or lime stalls to promote healing (6, 9)
  11. balance the ration to prevent sub-clinical rumen acidosis and associated laminitis
  12. avoid feeding large amounts of concentrate in a single feeding (to reduce the risk of laminitis)

Strategies specific to reducing the occurrence of infectious lameness:

  1. maintain a clean, dry environment to promote cow cleanliness especially cleanliness of the legs (9)
  2. ensure frequent footbathing (at least once a week, as a guide) (9)
  3. ensure footbaths are at least 3 meters long to get ample submersion of each of the cow’s feet (9)
  4. replace the footbath solution according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and clean the footbath between the solution changes.