Regular checks avoid lameness

The need to regularly inspect and trim feet is normally associated with dairy cows, but neglecting beef cattle feet could have severe implications in terms of productivity loss.

Keeping an eye for lameness and overgrown feet should be part of the every day herd inspection, reckons Endell Vet’s Keith Cutler of Salisbury.

“As stockmen walk among cattle any cows showing longer toes than normal or abnormalities should be thoroughly checked over. It’s worth pulling them to one side when they go through routine checks in the crush, such as pregnancy diagnosis, and lifting the hoof for a proper look.”

The most common problem in suckler herds is over-grown toes, he explains.

“This can often alter foot angle and can have implications on welfare and animal productivity when neglected.”

Instead of leaving these cases until when the vet is due a visit, he advises lifting the foot up in the crush and trimming back the problem area.

“This will often mean less work in the long-term, as well as less stress on the cow.”

Pedigree Aberdeen Angus stockman Tony Miller of Shadwell Estates, Suffolk says keeping an eye on your herd’s feet is a necessity.

“Once a year we have a professional foot trimmer in with a roll-over crate to go through the whole herd, trimming back feet following the winter housing period.

“And it’s important it is a professional, so that all areas of lameness are looked at.

I prefer the roll-over crate mechanism because cows are less stressed through the handling process.”

Mr Miller says that winter housing on straw or outwintering on heavy land will encourage foot growth and will prevent cows from out-grazing and milking in spring.

And with the casualty cow system no longer in place, due to the return of over-30-month beef to the market, Mr Cutler says it vital farmers consider the risks of lameness in beef herds as well as dairy herds.

“Last year a third of all casualty cow cases were associated with lameness, so with removal of the scheme, this could result in a loss of £400 or more for a cull cow according to today’s market values.”

But lameness isn’t an issue just for suckler cows, as intensive barley beef systems experience problems as well, particularly with trauma injuries, he adds.

“Treating an animal with an antibiotic instead of picking up the hoof and cleaning the infected area won’t always help.

In many cases this can lead to added infection, resulting in part of the carcass being condemned when slaughtered.”

Other lameness issues to consider are foul of the foot which can lead on to swollen feet and ulcers.

And although digital dermatitis is commonly associated with dairy cows, it can be a problem in suckler herds as well, says Mr Cutler.