Steve Gerratt cares a lot about his cows – all 6,250 of them. That’s why he decided to improve animal health and welfare by taking on lameness with his own two hands … literally.
Gerratt is a part-owner and manager of Ida-Gold Farms in Burley, Idaho, and Midway Dairy near Declo, Idaho. Since joining his family’s dairy enterprise as an in-house veterinarian 12 years ago, Gerratt believes that one of his most significant achievements has been reducing the frequency and severity of lameness in the herd.
“The situation I have changed the most is lame cows,” he says. “The way we were handling lame cows at that time wasn’t working.”
Upon returning to the dairy, Gerratt’s duties included improving reproduction and making culling decisions. He quickly found that lameness was a major factor in both.
“Some of these cows looked chronically lame, but they were really acutely lame and we were not taking care of them properly,” he adds. Often, these cows were still high milk producers, and he hated to see them leave the herd.
How they implemented in-house hoof trimming
Gerratt decided to make improving lameness his personal mission. The first step was to undergo training to learn how to trim himself, which was something that was not part of his course work at veterinary school.
“As a vet, I need to know about hoof trimming because it is such a significant part of cow health,” he says. “It helps me to be a better vet to have hoof trimming under my belt, too.”
With the sponsorship of a pharmaceutical vendor and the help of a former employer, Gerratt connected with a veterinarian from Spain who taught him how to trim in an upright chute.
He also spent time learning from local trimmer Hugh Love before bringing his knowledge back to the dairy to teach the trade to a couple of his herdsmen. Now, these trained employees have honed the skill and handle 100 percent of the trimming responsibilities for the dairies.
Based on his experience, Gerratt chose to purchase an upright chute, though he acknowledges other trimmers find success with tilt tables. With multiple people using the chute, he likes that it can be adjusted for the trimmer’s height, and it keeps every foot in the same position on every cow.
With the number of cows on the dairies, he estimates the purchase paid for itself within the first year. Trimming is done six days a week on roughly 30 to 40 cows each day. The goal is not to run as many cows through the chute as possible but rather to give the time and attention to those that need it.
Gerratt schedules and transports the chute weekly to rotate its use between their two dairies. The herdsmen on each dairy are aware of when the chute is coming so they can make a list of cows to work on when the chute is there.
Trimming is done on an as-needed versus routine basis to avoid putting unnecessary stress on the cow, which supports Gerratt’s philosophy: “There is no risk-free trip through the chute.”
About 50 percent of the cows are trimmed at dryoff or more often as needed. Trimming helps to head off abscesses and ulcers, and a footbath rounds out the hoof care protocol to control warts and foot rot.
Bringing hoof trimming in-house has connected the action with the outcome. As opposed to someone coming in to do the work and then driving away, Gerratt says he “lives and dies” by the decisions he makes. Just seeing the cows every day provides immediate feedback. He adds, “The trimmers on our dairies and I both get to see firsthand the outcomes of the decisions we make.”
Improving the quality of culls
These days at his dairies, a cow’s lame status is not a yes-or-no answer; by better understanding each cow’s individual circumstance, Gerratt can evaluate the level of severity and the likelihood of recovery, and he can reference the cow’s recorded lameness history through DHI-Plus.
He finds that many of the cows that would have been sold in the past due to lameness really just need a little help to get over lameness.
“We are managing lame cows much better. We rarely sell acutely lame cows any more,” Gerratt adds. “We still sell lame cows, but now it’s because they are at the end of their lactation and are not pregnant.”
Controlled lameness means that the power to cull cows is back in Gerratt’s hands. “There were so many cows that I used to have to sell before, but now I can help them get over lameness.” PD
TOP: Steve Gerratt (right), part owner and manager of Ida-Gold Farms and Midway Dairy, took control of lameness by learning how to hoof trim himself, and then training a few key employees.
MIDDLE, BOTTOM: An upright trimming chute was Gerratt’s choice for the dairies he manages. One advantage is that it can be adjusted to fit the height of the hoof trimmer, which is important because he has multiple herdsmen trained to do the job. Photos by Mike Dixon.