Cow tracks have “taken a hammering” this season following the extended period of wet weather, making Autumn maintenance essential to prevent future lameness issues.

Vets and foot trimmers are reporting a significant increase in white line disease and stone related injuries following the less than ideal conditions faced by most dairy producers.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly at Livestock 2012, Nick Bell of the Royal Veterinary College explained how a combination of constant wet weather, softer feet and rain exposing stones on cow tracks had all combined to cause an up-rise in lameness incidence.

Track maintenance

“Most tracks will need some kind of attention this autumn/winter,” he said. “In a lot of instances the camber will need restoring and ditches will need opening up either side of the track.”

He suggested looking locally to source some kind of cow friendly material, such as Eolithic lime to re-surface walk ways out to pasture.

“If this pattern in weather continues for future years, it is worth thinking about investing more in cow tracks,” said Dr Bell.

However, he said some producers were questioning how to improve tracks before cows were housed because conditions were so poor.

“Short of restoring now, which isn’t practical, using rape straw or straw material to cover stones can be one way of improving tracks.”

Stone damage

Somerset based foot trimmer, Steve Paul of cowsfeet.co.uk said he had witnessed a 25-30% increase in the number of blocks applied to feet in recent months.

“White line disease has been a problem because poor weather has meant cows have been in and out and subject to diet changes – dry matter intakes have been up and down like a yo-yo.”

The subsequent weakened white line had then been open to damage from stones which had been exposed during rain fall on cow tracks.

“Cows that have been housed all the time have had a better summer in terms of foot health – particularly if farmers are on top of foot hygiene and foot bathing,” he said.

Toe necrosis

And both Dr Bell and Mr Paul advised regular, preventative foot trimming and foot-bathing to try and curtail a growing incidence of toe necrosis.

Mr Paul said many foot-trimmers were reporting necrosis in more than 70% of foot wounds. The condition is caused by digital dermatitis bugs infecting a foot wound and tracking up the hoof, so by improving digital dermatitis control, you will see fewer necrosis.

“You need to do enough preventative foot trimming so you’re not getting white line disease or ulcers and footbath regularly to prevent problems,” said Mr Paul.

However he stressed that foot-bathing was only effective on healthy, good feet, rather than existing problems. In fact he said, in an ideal world cows with lesions shouldn’t go through a foot-bath as it would only aggravate the problem.

For more on this topic

Better communication could reduce lameness

See more on Livestock 2012

Aly Balsom on G+