Although lameness has multifactoral causes, an intense lameness prevention program will minimize losses and save cows. Lameness prevention protocol includes: •Observe cows daily for lameness. •Detect lameness early through locomotion scoring.

•Hire a competent trimmer who performs functional and therapeutic trimming.

•Trim every cow two times or more per year.

•Treat lame cows immediately.

•Provide proper treatment and correct therapeutic trimming.


•Provide a comfortable recovery area.

•Recheck lame cows

•Keep hoof health records.

•Determine high-maintenance cows and trim them routinely.

•Use a maintenance footbath regularly and correctly.

•Treat hairy wart lesions by individually spraying with effective solutions.

•Provide a comfortable and clean cow environment.

•Place soft rubber on all downward slopes greater than 2 percent.

Hoof trimming

The success of your lameness prevention program is largely in the hands of your trimmer. Hire a qualified hoof trimmer that understands the causes of lameness and has the knowledge to perform functional and therapeutic trimming. Trimmers should achieve results; lame cows should recover and lameness rates should improve in the long term. A trimmer should be able to advise management on ways to improve hoof health. Lastly, a hoof trimmer must commit the time to cover the needs of the dairy.

The importance of correct and timely hoof trimming is often underestimated. Cows are subjected to various stress factors such as calving, ration changes and heat stress. Field research indicates properly trimmed cows are far less likely to become lame following a stress period.

Furthermore, cows should be trimmed using functional hoof trimming techniques. This technique corrects the length of the claws, obtains proper claw balance and corrects the toe angle while leaving enough horn to protect the vulnerable corium. Functional trimming should be performed on a scheduled basis and should rarely result in cows becoming lame shortly after trimming.

Any cows showing signs of lameness need immediate attention. Lame cows that are therapeutically trimmed and treated should feel somewhat relieved immediately and recover over a period of only a few days. Utilizing wooden or plastic blocks to aid healing is a very important part of therapeutic hoof trimming. If lame cows are not recovering, the means of treatment have failed. The goal on each farm should be no cows culled as a result of lameness.

Trimming schedule

One of the major stress periods for springing heifers and cows is two to three weeks prior to calving through two to three weeks postpartum. During this time, cattle experience nutrition, housing and metabolic changes. Field research indicates maintenance trimming should occur three to six weeks before calving to achieve the best possible claw balance and angle. High milk production, environment and large udders change the biomechanics of today’s dairy cows. This changes the wear and growth of the rear claws. If these changes are more than what the cow can physically handle, lameness will develop.

A second maintenance trim should be performed between 90 and 130 days into lactation. Environmental conditions, cow comfort issues and management practices aid in determining the exact time of the second trim.

A third trim may be required at 250 days into lactation to maintain function. This is especially important with cows that will have long lactations. When imbalance of the rear claws exceeds one-half inch, a maintenance trim should be performed. An imbalance of this nature makes the cow more prone to lameness when experiencing stress. Imbalance of the rear claws is easily seen in the milking parlor. When the cow stands on the milking platform, observe whether the lateral (outside) claw exceeds the medial (inside) claw by one-half inch or more at the heel.

Lame cows should always be considered special-needs cows. A lame cow seldom fits into a regular maintenance-trimming schedule. Most times, the reason a cow becomes lame is because she was missed during a regular maintenance trim or some other condition such as posture, disease, environment and abnormal horn growth or wear made her more susceptible to lameness. This is the reason to be attentive to the rear claws of cows that were previously lame.

Follow-up inspections are important for these cows. A check-up five weeks after a lameness incidence will indicate if she has recovered. The benefits of trimming these high-maintenance cows every 60 to 90 days far outweighs the time involved. It is a short task and typically balancing only the rear claws is required. This interrupts the vicious cycle of lameness and keeps the claws healthy, resulting in a more productive cow.

Heat stress is one of the major contributors of lameness. Cows that have balanced claws with proper hoof angle before the heat of the summer begins develop fewer problems. This is a key to prevention that should never be overlooked.

Give special attention to the first-lactation cows. Commonly, culling rates for first-lactation animals are greater than during any other lactation. The stated reasons for culling are mastitis, reproduction and lameness. However, quite often the initial cause of mastitis and reproduction problems is due to the onset of lameness. Antidotal research indicates this trend can be reversed and a low first-lactation cull rate achieved when the following changes are made:

•All springing heifers, at seven months of gestation, are introduced into the dry cow pen. At this stage of their lives, these heifers learn the social aspects of being around mature cows. They also get used to a management routine similar to what they will experience during lactation.

•Often heifers are raised on pasture or dry lots with a yielding surface. Heifers should be introduced to concrete (a nonyielding surface) four to six weeks prior to entering the transition group. This gives the corium a chance to adjust to the concussion this type of surface causes. Without this adjustment period, nutritional changes and calving cause stress, which dramatically increases lameness rates.

•Trim all springing heifers. First-lactation cows go through a major life and physical change. Heifers who are learning to walk with an udder, being introduced to milking equipment and adjusting to a new environment experience a tremendous amount of stress. Proper hoof trimming improves weight-bearing and weight distribution on the claws and lowers the mechanical insults to the already vulnerable corium.

One other benefit to proper trimming at this time is that it improves the claw angle. This change keeps the claws more upright and raises the heels out of the manure, which lowers the incidence of digital dermatitis or foot warts.

Footbath protocol

Footbaths should be primarily used for prevention of hoof diseases. When used properly, footbath solutions condition the soft tissue of the hoof, safeguarding it against potential pathogens. Footbaths do not treat active infections, but they do aid in the spread of diseases. They are an essential element of any lameness prevention program. Usage varies from farm to farm based on environmental conditions. The more manure contamination of the lower leg, the more frequently a footbath must be used.

The dimensions and location of the footbath should be considered carefully. A footbath should be a minimum of 9 feet long, 24 inches wide and 8 inches deep. In addition, the bath should be placed where there is minimal slope so the solution is at least 4 inches deep throughout the entire length.

Several footbath solutions are currently available. They can be categorized as cleaning agents, disinfectants and antibiotics. A rotation of cleaning agents and disinfectants achieves optimal results. Solutions consisting of hand soap or detergent and feed-grade salt cleanse the hoof and loosen manure, allowing air in the interdigital space. These cleaning agents can be used approximately one-third to one-half of the time but should be rotated with disinfectants.

Solutions containing copper and zinc sulfates, formalin, quaternary ammonium compounds and a range of commercial products disinfect the hoof and should be used to complement the effects of the cleaning agents. Antibiotics should only be used in outbreak situations where a high infection rate must be brought under control immediately.

There are several factors that alter the usefulness of any solution. Antidotal research indicates most solutions lose their effectiveness after 150 to 200 cow passes, primarily due to manure contamination. However, the length of time the solution has been exposed to manure also impacts success rates. Lastly, the use of a prebath normally dilutes the treatment solution; however, there are more problems with prebaths. When a 6-foot prebath and 6-foot treatment bath are used, the results are rarely positive because the treatment solution cannot penetrate a wet hoof nearly as well as a dry hoof. This problem can be alleviated when the two baths are placed at least 20 feet apart. In addition, this system rarely yields positive results unless the bath is used every milking, which is never economical.

Always use the correct amount of solution and follow manufacturers’ recommendations. To determine the amount of solution, measure your footbath and refer to the following formula:

Length x width x depth (desired) x 7.46 = gallons

For example, 8 foot length x 2 foot width x 0.42 feet (0.5 inches) depth x 7.46 = 50 gallons


Implementing an aggressive lameness prevention program is essential to maintaining good hoof health. Producers, managers and other dairy professionals must work closely together to identify problems and determine solutions that will improve the productivity of today’s dairy cows. This team approach yields results and keeps cows on solid footing. PD

References omitted but are available upon request at

—Excerpts from 2006 Vita Plus Dairy Summit Proceedings