Spring’s typically wet weather can cause a number of issues on-farm, including pugging, late crop planting, and general mess. Cows spending more time on wet paddocks also increases the incidence of lameness due to softened hooves and an increased susceptibility to hoof damage. While there is only so much farmers can do to manage herds on wet paddocks, especially when running a pasture-based system, there are other steps to reduce the incidence of lameness.
Farmers might be keen to get the cows to the shed in as little time as possible, but the time saved getting them there might results in more cases of lameness.
DairyNZ information advises that a cow’s feet follow a very specific pattern when walking, and if she is under pressure from a herdsman, her head is forced up and she can no longer see where she is placing her feet. Encouraging the cows at the front of the herd is a far better way to encourage the herd to move. DairyNZ also encourages enforcing a minimum distance rule with staff. For example, people on bikes should follow no closer than two fence posts behind the last cows.
Over-use of the backing gate or packing cows in too tight on the platform results in twisting of the feet and pressure on the hoof edges, a common cause of white line disease.
Hoof health expert Dr Neil Chesterton doesn’t recommend using a backing gate to push cows, but instead to “take up space”. He recommends using a timer to regulate movement to no more than five seconds in any one movement on the backing gate, and on the top gate, no more than two seconds in each forward movement. Regulate the speed of the gate to no more than 12m per minute in round yards or 6m per minute in rectangular yards.
Cows that must turn sharp corners on concrete yards are more prone to lameness due to “skewing” or twisting of the hoof. If possible ensure shed entries and exits are as wide and straight as possible, and if not, installing rubber matting may be an option.
A great piece of advice from Neil is for farmers to ask, ‘Would I walk down my race barefoot?’ If the answer is no, then they need to spend some time maintaining the races. Ensure the right material for both the base and top layer is used, and that the base layer is well-compacted with well-drained edges with an eight per cent crowned surface, and free from large stones.
Good stockmanship and cow management can go a long way towards reducing the incidence of lameness. There will still be unavoidable cases of lameness in the herd, but with corrective hoof trimming using a Wrangler cattle handler, and/or veterinary treatment if necessary, they will become the exception, not the rule.