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Lameness Control Strategies: split into two categories
Koos Vis

I’m sure you’ve run into lameness challenges in the past – or perhaps you’re currently facing some challenges? Or maybe they’re looming around the corner but you’re not aware of them yet. Let’s take a closer look at the different approaches and checks we need to have in place to control our lameness challenges.

We can split our approaches to lameness into two categories: Preventative care and Curative care. In this overview, I’ve taken a look at these two approaches and made some comments about them both. Let’s start with the one that seems to be the easiest and gives us the best return:

Preventative care is defined as ‘Methods to avoid occurrence of disease (lameness)’. What this means is that there are no problems present. This scenario occurs in a perfect world, but it’s not what you usually find in your dairy herd. Even in this perfect world, factors can still be present that could, over time, develop into a lameness challenge.

Let’s compare this to milking and mastitis prevention: you provide dry bedding and pre- and post- dipping to the animals to prevent mastitis from occurring. Still, the factors that lead to mastitis are often present: genetic predisposition, bacteria in the barn and on the udder, etc. With these factors present, you use all the means available to minimize the chances of problems developing.

In our dairy industry today, we’ve come to a practical definition of the word ‘prevention’, which is as follows: ‘Methods to treat an existent problem in its early stages before it causes significant morbidity.’ Morbidity refers to the lameness ‘state’ of the cow, or the incidence of lameness in the herd setting. This practical definition tends to become a standard, although on a slippery slope. If we want to get the best results and return on our investment, it’s very important that we have a proper definition. Let’s draw the comparison again between mastitis treatment and lameness: ‘once a cow gets mastitis, she receives treatment to cure the problem and get the milk back in the tank ASAP’. Lameness is really no different, is it?

As herd manager, it is important that you know your herd’s challenges and weak links and manage your operation accordingly. Examples for areas of Preventative care are:
-Proper hoof trimming
-Prevention foot bathing
-Timely cleaning of the barn floors
-Proper ration and forage management
-Cow comfort: stalls, bedding packs, ventilation, etc.

Curative care, the second category to our approach to lameness, is defined as:seeking a cure for an existent disease or condition’. Here, our cow shows signs of a hoof defect; she is either slightly uncomfortable in her gait or moderately lame, or even has a severe limp: all these animals fall into our curative care category. Is it not fair to say – when we notice ‘other-than-normal’ walking behavior – that our preventive care plan has failed or is lacking? At this stage, it’s important to understand and confirm the cause and nature of the improper gait. First, the affected animal should be examined and treated ASAP (just like we do for mastitis), to get the best rate of successful healing. Depending on the hoof problem, of course, a few examples of Curative care are:

-A simple hoof trim to balance the claws
-Placing a wrap for an infectious problem
-Gluing a block

As a second step, the prevention methods should be examined and improved or fine-tuned to avoid or limit new lameness cases from occurring. The question is always: “Is this individual animal just prone to lameness or is the problem a potential herd issue?”

I often hear the statement that footbaths are especially needed to prevent lameness, and they’re definitely a great tool to be used. But still, I would suggest that the footbath method is only to be used as a part of the preventative care category. And I would also encourage looking at the prevention category across a wider spectrum. A footbath on its own is never going to correct a poor stall or an improper trim, etc.

Together with some local producers, we have developed and adopted a new tool to bridge the gap between preventative and curative care. We’re using the Intra SprayPro Sprayer as a weekly focus tool to keep up preventative care and at the same time concentrate on finding potential problem animals. During our weekly spraying session, we create a list of animals to work on in our hoof trimming chute.

As a final note, thank you to the dairy friend who suggested this topic. I would like to say that it’s rather difficult to find the right words and overall coverage for this topic. I apologize if I missed anything – perhaps your operation has different challenges. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] for all of your herd-related lameness questions.

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