When it comes to dairy management, hoof care often gets set aside on many operations – especially when cash flow begins to slow.

However, proper hoof care and reduced lameness have proven over time to be a valuable investment for producers. Even slightly lame cows generally do not breed back as well and tend to produce less milk.

Oftentimes producers may be tempted to cut back on routine hoof trimming, eliminate footbaths or alter rations as a way to save money. But, by maintaining good hoof health, dairies can reduce their chances of mastitis, cow injury and reproduction problems while maintaining high levels of milk production. Hoof care needs to remain a top priority in the herd even in hard economic times because it’s cheaper to prevent hoof problems than treat them.

Keep nutrition as a top priority
Proper nutrition, including adequate fiber rations, is important to maintain good hoof health and prevent laminitis problems. Lack of effective fiber in the diet can lead to rumen acidosis plus related laminitis and foot problems. The majority of effective fiber needs to come from high-quality forages.

When cash flow is tight, producers may tend to cut back on feed additives including biotin, buffer or chelated/organic zinc products, such as Zinpro, in an attempt to lower ration costs. However, when you look at the cost of these additives, it’s only pennies per cow per day. Making this price cut now may result in poor hoof health down the road.


It’s also important to keep a cow’s ration as balanced as possible by having proper fiber levels and avoiding excess starch and protein. Unbalanced rations not only lead to increased foot problems but also result in less-than- optimal milk production. Ration models such as CPM and CNCPS can be very helpful in ensuring proper nutritional balance, particularly during tough economic times.

Schedule professional hoof trimmers regularly
The old saying, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” does not apply when it comes to hoof care. Preventative routine hoof trimming should be implemented throughout the herd. Our goal is to have each cow trimmed twice annually to maintain good hoof health. Consult with your veterinarian and nutritionist to determine a schedule for trimming hooves. When trimming, it is important to balance the hooves, trim them evenly and flat and not over-trim.

Unfortunately, during challenging economic times it can be very appealing to cut trimming back to only once a year or even eliminate it altogether in an attempt to save money. This results in cows with unbalanced feet, long toes and related issues that can lead to more severe problems in the future.

It’s also important to use a hoof trimmer who is well trained in the art and science of trimming hooves. Most trimmers today have attended classes and seminars and are well trained for the task at hand. They know how to recognize different lesions and other problems. And although it may cost more than doing it yourself, professional trimmers can get the job done much quicker and more efficiently, costing less money in the long run. Virtually all trimmers use a tracking sheet to record lesions found and treatments administered to each cow, allowing the dairyman and his advisers to use this information toward preventing and solving future hoof problems.

It may be tempting at times to eliminate maintenance trimming and only trim when we actually see the foot problem. However, we need to remember that by the time we actually see cows limping, it may be too late and the problem has reached the point of no return. In short, it’s important to trim the cow while she’s still walking well and to keep the hoof in good shape and good form.

Footbaths easy, affordable
Footbaths are another area where producers may choose to cut back in an effort to reduce costs. Such a choice could lead to increased hoof infections, including foot rot and heel warts. Work with your herd advisers to set up an effective foot bath schedule.

In general, all cows should go through the footbath 3 to 4 days per week to help ensure good hoof health. Proper footbath requirements include:

• 8 to 10 feet long, 3 feet wide and approximately 5 inches deep.

• Baths should be changed approximately every 200 cows.

• After going through the footbath, cows should enter a clean, dry area.

• Products such as copper sulfate, zinc sulfate, formaldehyde or commercial products should be used to help ward off infectious problems including heel warts and foot rot.

• Automated footbaths are now available and may offer some advantages in cleanliness, particularly with larger herds.

Cow comfort key in foot health
Ultimately, the issue of cow comfort comes into play when trying to provide proper hoof care. For optimum hoof health, it’s best to avoid overcrowding and to reduce the effects of heat stress. Comfortable and properly sized freestalls are important to prevent laminitis and related foot problems due to excessive standing time.

When caring for the cow, we need to make sure we provide a well-bedded, clean and dry freestall. Sand bedding would be the preferred choice, but other deep-bedded materials such as sawdust, paper pulp, compost and separated manure solids appear to provide good cow comfort. A real benefit of sand is that it also provides excellent footing on concrete, preventing cows from slipping or splitting-out, particularly during warm temperatures when “slime layers” tend to grow on concrete surfaces. Cows need to have a comfortable place to lie down and get off their feet, as they need to rest about 12 hours a day. After all, she’s a big animal and after standing on cement much of the day, she needs to get off her feet.

Locomotion scoring helps control lameness
Good hoof care doesn’t always need to cost a lot of money. Locomotion scoring – a process whereby dairy personnel can rate how a cow is standing and/or walking – will help producers recognize problems before they worsen. Workers should watch for cows that are walking more humpbacked, are laying down often, favoring a leg or not getting up to eat when feed becomes available. Such scoring and observation should take place on a regular basis.

Zinpro Corporation has developed an easy-to-use locomotion scoring system that helps identify lame cows before they get to the point of being seriously lame and difficult to treat. Consult with your veterinarian or nutritionist for more information on this locomotion scoring system.

Where to turn
When looking to design a hoof care plan for your operation, or if you are seeking to make changes to your current plan, consult with your veterinarian, nutritionist or university dairy extension agent. There is extensive literature available on hoof health, the proper use of footbaths, and recognizing, treating and preventing hoof problems.

In conclusion, proper hoof care can be done economically through maintenance trimming, well-maintained footbaths, proper nutrition and regular locomotion scoring. Cutting back on these too far may save money in the short term, but will ultimately hurt your bottom line through increased lameness problems in your herd. PD

Paul Windschitl
Dairy Nutritionist
Hubbard Feeds