How to minimise claw horn lesions at calving time

Extra attention to cow comfort around the calving stage is vital to minimise sole ulcers and sole haemorrhage, according to a leading vet and clinical researcher.

Dr Reuben Newsome of Synergy Farm Health says natural, hormone-driven physiological changes that facilitate the passage of a live calf also softens cows’ feet around the calving period.

This is due to the hormone relaxin breaking down collagen in the cow’s body ahead of calving.

While this makes calving easier, it unfortunately means the pedal bone is lowered and is more prone to injury.

See also: 5 tips for mobility scoring on dairy farms

It can  be two or three months before you see sole ulcer, as damage on the inner aspect of the sole horn takes a long time to grow out.

It has to grow out through the full thickness of the sole horn before it becomes an ulcer.

If a heifer or cow  is taken from a deep straw yard and put in the milking group on concrete while the foot is weak, there is a chance damage will be done.

Research shows that early treatment is vital for any lameness incident, which means regular and constant efforts to mobility-score cows.

Six ways to take pressure off feet around calving

Farmers Weekly spoke to Dr Newsome and Professor Christer Bergsten, a dairy flooring expert at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, to glean some insights into how farmers can minimise the risk of trauma during the critical calving and fresh period.

1. Reduce standing times

  • Cubicle space: Appropriate space to achieve lying times of a minimum of 12 hours a day will take pressure off the feet. AHDB advice is for 2.4-2.5m x 1.2m and an additional 0.6m to allow for lunging.
  • Investigate if cows can be milked in groups to reduce standing times.

2. Reduce chance for confrontation from dominant cows

  • Passageways: Heifers are particularly vulnerable as they are low in rank and can be pushed by other cows which can put disproportionate pressure on claws. AHDB advice is for feeding passages to be 4.5-5m wide and cubicle passageways to be 3-4.5m wide.
  • Feed face: Easy access to feed is vital to keep condition on fresh heifers and cows. About 66-70cm a cow will allow ease of access to feed.

3. Provide softer flooring after calving

  • If transitioning calved animals from straw to concrete, create a special group of at-risk cows to reduce competition and risk from dominant cows for a month after calving, to reduce the chance of twisting and trauma on the claws of the hoof.
  • Vulcanised rubber matting is a worthwhile investment for key, high-traffic areas of sheds. Prices are typically around £50-£60/sq m. 
  • Target strategic areas of buildings where cows stand, such as by water troughs, feeding areas or the holding pen. Narrow strips of rubber (70cm) where cows are known to walk in single-file, such as out of a rotary parlour, can be an economical use, or consider placing a 70cm strip where the back feet rest at the feed face to take pressure off feet.

4. Monitor constantly for early treatment

  • Fortnightly mobility scoring can help identify cases early, ideally within two weeks of becoming a mobility score 2 cow. Signs will include uneven weight bearing on a limb that is immediately identifiable, and/or obviously shortened strides and often with an arch to the centre of the back.
  • Trim, add a block and administer with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID), and give a follow-up inspection four weeks later.

5. Ensure good communication channels

  • Communicating through WhatsApp and recording lameness cases on Google Documents can help communication channels between vet, foot trimmer and farmer.
  • Certain animals can be flagged as needing close attention or care.

6. Maintain optimum Body Condition Score (BCS)

  • Achieving optimal BCS is vital, as research shows that any cow that loses condition (even half a condition score) can mobilise fat from the digital cushion or “fat pad” in the hoof, decreasing the cow’s natural shock absorption and increasing the risk of foot trauma.
  • Over-fat cows are a risk because they can lose the most body condition.

Stage of lactation

Target BCS

At calving

2.5-3.0

60 days post-calving

2.0-2.5

100 days before drying off

2.5-3.0

At drying off

2.5-3.0

Source: AHDB Dairy