7 August 1998

DUTCH – NOLAMEEXCUSE

Routine foot checks and

foot-trimming could help

reduce lameness incidence

in the UK dairy herd,

according to a Dutch

foot-care pioneer.

Jeremy Hunt reports

ALTHOUGH UK dairy farmers can now identify foot problems before cows become seriously lame, there are still too many cows whose feet do not receive annual routine treatment.

Thats the opinion of Dutch foot-care pioneer Peter Klooster-man of the Dutch Dairy Training Centre, Friesland. He has been instructing UK vets, herdsmen and professional trimmers on a course organised by the newly-formed National Association of Foot Trimmers.

And he believes that the costs of using professional foot trimmers to maintain cows feet in good order is money well spent.

"The costs will be recouped easily by savings made on replacements and avoiding the lost milk yield of cows with sore feet."

Mr Kloosterman has been teaching foot trimming in the UK for 10 years. While UK foot-care has improved, he believes it is still not as good as in Dutch herds: "We routinely check and trim all cows feet twice or even three times a year and as a result we have less lameness."

He believes there are many more cows with overgrown feet in UK herds than in Holland.

Less laminitis

Laminitis is still the main cause of foot concerns in the UK. The disease is a metabolic disorder and can be reduced by improved foot-care and more careful attention to diet at calving.

"If farmers trimmed their cows feet more often they would be surprised at the reduction in laminitis cases. There are various causes of laminitis but if you trim cows feet more frequently to maintain the correct shape the other factors of influence will be reduced.

"The aim is to take the pressure away from the laminitic claw to help the cow to walk. But quite often, when we come to treat the effect of laminitis, the disease is over and we are dealing with the results of the problem."

Signs of lameness caused by incorrect feeding before and after calving are not often noticed until the lactation is well underway, says Mr Kloosterman. Bruising on the sole, a sole ulcer or wall ulcer may not be identified until it is too late.

All dairy cows should undergo a routine foot check as soon as they are dried-off. "They are taking two months off, nothing much is asked of them and they have a positive energy balance. This is when farmers should aim to have the full body weight spread evenly over all four feet when they calve down."

Digital dermatitis is still a big problem in some UK herds – better housing and improved hygiene can do much to reduce the incidence of this bacterial infection.

"Antibiotic foot-baths will help but digital dermatitis is often found on farms where overall stock hygiene standards are low; resistance to the antibiotic can also become a concern. The effect of a foot-bath is immediately negated if cows are turned straight back into a yard to stand in slurry."

Mr Kloostermans recommended treatment for digital dermatitis is to individually clean each foot with a towel and spray with an antibiotic spray. This should be left to dry for 30 seconds and then repeated; the whole process can be repeated after two or three days depending on the level of infection.

But he says improved welfare standards will bring big benefits to cow foot care. "Management can achieve more than the trimming knife. Farmers can achieve more than they realise by making conditions under-foot drier and cleaner.

"Slurry-heel and dermatitis are both baterial infections that can be avoided by providing a cleaner environment for cows feet."

Although loose housing on straw is a good system, according to Mr Kloosterman, there are hot-spots that must be watched. "Where cows enter the straw beds and where they drink must be monitored closely.

"Straw can push up in-between cows feet and wedge slurry and muck in-between the claws so it is not the answer to cow foot problems."

Mr Kloostermans most favoured system is slatted floors with automatic scrapers combined with high buildings to keep the environment full of fresh air.

"Automatic scrapers should be operating every 1.5 to 2 hours to avoid a build up of slurry that creates a wave of muck washing over cows feet.

"Once or twice a day scraping with a tractor is insufficient. Slats should run the entire length of the building; anywhere the cow walks should be slatted."

In Holland, cows feet are routinely checked and trimmed two or three times a year, reducing incidence of lameness.The cost of using a professional foot trimmer, maintaining cows feet in good condition and treating concerns promptly can be recouped easily.

There are many more cows with overgrown feet in UK herds than in Holland, believes Dutch foot-care pioneer Peter Kloosterman. Best time to treat is when cows are dry.