Hoof-Trimming Improves Reproductive Performance Back »

Humid conditions increase lameness incidence in dairy cows and lead to production losses, lower fertility, and culling. Nearly one-third of the total water absorbed by the hoof is during the first hour of exposure to high moisture; this reduces its hardness and increases the incidence of lesions. Bacteria such as Fusobacterium necrophorus and Bacteroides melaninogenicus can cause foot rot and digital dermatitis or hairy heel warts. Hairy heel warts are still one of the leading lameness causes in the U.S.

Figure 1. Effects of lameness on dry matter intake.

Dry Matter Intake
Milk Production
       Percent reduction from score 1      

Source: Robinson P. accessed October 2013.

One of the main problems with lameness however, is its association with reproduction losses. Lameness post-calving has been associated with delayed estrous cycles, cystic ovaries, lower pregnancy to first AI, and longer calving-to-conception intervals. The associated pain with lameness affects cow behavior and reduces intake worsening the negative energy balance which occurs post-calving (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 2. Effects of lameness on feed intake

Feed intake, pounds as fed
Time spent eating, min
Lameness, acute*
Lameness, chronic
Daily visits to the bunk
Days from trimming
No changes
No changes

*7.7 days before actual diagnosis; Source: modified from González et al. 2008

Lameness costs can be directly due to treatment or indirectly from a decrease in reproduction and production or early culling. Days to first AI, days open, time spent in the breeding group and services per conception are prolonged in lame cows (Fig. 3; Sprecher et al., 1997). Garbarino et al. (2004) observed that cows classified as lame had 3.5 greater probability of delayed cycles. The authors concluded that the return to normal cycles in lame cows can be improved by 71% by just preventing the onset of lameness.

A study published in September 2013 in the Journal of Dairy Science also found that dairies with higher lameness prevalence had longer calving-conception intervals and calving intervals.

Lameness reduction should be part of the overall management plan used to improve reproductive performance in a dairy herd. Finding ways to decrease the incidence of hoof injuries and infections can be accomplished by footbaths and hoof trimming. Hooves not trimmed on a regular basis will grow unevenly, resulting in weight-bearing changes that damage the underlying tissues. The most common substance added to footbaths is copper sulfate at 2.5 to 5 percent or 26 pounds of copper sulfate in 62 gallons of water. The solution should be replaced often and kept free of organic matter to remain effective.

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