3 November 1995


Many foot trimming problems in dairy cows could be avoided by correct preventative foot trimming. Rebecca Austin reports

AN increasing number of dairy cows are foot trimmed twice a year as a preventative measure, says Cornish foot trimmer Philip James, who sees 70% of his business guaranteed in this manner.

Mr James trims the feet of 5000 of the 100,000 cows in Cornwall each year. The task takes up to four days a week. The rest of his time is spent running his own 44-cow herd at 60ha (150-acre) tenanted Trehane Farm, Boscastle.

Since he set up the business four years ago his workload has increased five-fold and he expects to double turnover in 12 months. But he feels he is only just scratching the surface. "Those working full-time are trimming 12,000 cows a year.

"Foot trimming is now part of overall dairy farm management. It is starting to receive as much attention as fertility and feeding management, although it is said we are still 15 years behind the Dutch in our attitude towards cow foot-care."

Mr James says some farmers have been driven towards change by welfare concerns. But the fact that keeping cows and heifers is so expensive has increased the realisation that they can no longer accept lameness as an everyday fact. "They now understand that it is better to spend £10 a year to keep a cow in the herd, rather than spend about £1500 to buy in a replacement because lameness has adversely affected production and fertility."

Mr James charges £5 to £6 to trim hind feet and £10 for all four. Hind feet need the most attention because the outer claws grow faster and bear more weight. Problem cows are usually treated three or four times a year once the condition has been tackled initially. Even though circumstances differ on farms, he recommends most cows feet are trimmed twice a year.

"In the past 10 to 15 years the dairy cow has gone through a dramatic change in the way it is kept. We have also imported genetics from the US and Canada, producing larger cows, which demand a higher plane of nutrition.

"All these changes are coming out in the cows feet. Some are not able to cope with the extra protein and develop laminitis. Others do not fit into the traditional cubicle and stand with their back feet in the passage among all the slurry. These are prone to slurry heel and sole ulcers.

"A cow is only as good as her feet and the cost of trimming them twice a year is the equivalent of selling 40 litres of milk at current prices. It is insignificant but the benefits of regular, preventative trimming are long-lasting and positive."

Over half the cows treated by Mr James have digital dermatitis and he is concerned about the hold this infectious disease now has in dairy herds. The condition develops as lesions between the claws or at the back heels and is also associated with slurry heel.

"The best way to treat it is with an antibiotic footbath. Formalin is no good because it aggravates the dermatitis and causes acute pain," he says.

Mr James recommends cleaning off the feet before footbathing and then spraying them with oxytetracycline spray once they have been through the footbath. "You must be religious and treat the cow three times a week. When over half the herd is suffering put the all cows through a foot bath twice in 10 days."

Foul-of-the-foot is another concern. Mr James advises farmers to treat it immediately, as it can develop into an acute condition overnight. The bacteria is picked up from the soil through a cut in the digital cleft between the claws. This causes the foot to swell up and, in some cases, known as super-foul, the skin erupts into a stinking fleshy wound within 48 hours.

Recovery can take weeks, rather than days. Mr James says it is vital producers inject their cows immediately they recognise the acute condition.

"You have got to hit it with 75cc of penicillin over three days for there to be any result. That might mean chucking away five days worth of milk but that is a small price to pay for saving the cow," he says. &#42

Hind feet need more care – outer claws grow faster and bear more weight.

Cornishman Philip James trims the feet of an increasing number of dairy cows in the county twice a year as a preventative measure against lameness.