Foot trimming and foot care are performed at two levels on your dairy: lameness correction and preventive hoof trimming. At either level, it needs to be done by trained, qualified persons. Whether foot trimming should be done by an off-farm specialist or a staff person on your dairy depends upon several factors you need to examine. Here are some views I shared with your herdsman in an article I wrote for the April 2010 issue of El Lechero.

Lameness and foot care
Train your herdsman to become competent to treat this sick cow problem. Lame cows should not be left untreated until an off-farm specialist makes it back to the dairy to deal with them. Lame cows benefit from immediate attention for these reasons:

• Lame cows produce less milk

• Lame cows suffer from pain

• Lame cows become chronic problems when lameness is not attacked immediately.


Lameness is a symptom of an underlying, specific foot problem. Train your herdsman to lift and examine feet of every lame cow for signs of one of the following lameness causes:

Foot rot : soft tissue infection that requires systemic antibiotics.

Hairy wart : Infection of the heel area of the foot. This is a superficial infection that, while it causes significant pain to the animal, can be treated simply by applying a topical antibiotic or disinfectant agent to the lesion.

Sole abscess or sole ulcer : A “sterile” infection where death of foot tissue deep in the claw cause accumulation of gaseous pus, causing pain and lameness. A “black spot” in the sole area can be opened to allow drainage to eliminate the pain. Local antibiotic application and a bandage may or may not be necessary.

Laminitis : Blood escapes from vessels in the blood-rich area of the white line of the claw. This blood pools outside blood vessels, then causes pressure on surrounding tissue; tissue death results. Since laminitis is not infectious, antibiotic administration is not necessary; rather, corrective trimming to remove all dead, affected tissue is required. Applying a block to the good claw takes the weight-bearing pressure off the affected claw until healing occurs.

Injury, horn overgrowth, fractures and punctures : These are causes of lameness that occur with less frequency than the other causes I’ve outlined. Experienced or trained persons can arrive at these diagnoses by a “process of elimination.” Corrective foot trimming and time cures most of these problems; culling may be required in some cases.

Here is what herd owners or managers can do to resolve lame cow problems:

1. Direct your herdsman or designated worker to “focus” and deal with lame cows right away. These are sick cows that need immediate and timely attention. Make attention to lame cows part of a worker’s responsibility; make it their job!

2. Provide training for the staff member you designate to treat lame cows. Your veterinarian or foot trimmer is usually willing and competent to train; get over the language barrier if you have Hispanic workers and English-speaking trainers. Spanish training is available. Demonstrating how to handle problems in any language is a good alternative to instructional training that is language-dependent.

3. Along with your veterinarian, write out protocols to treat each lameness condition. Since each cause of lameness is different, treatment protocols differ depending upon the lameness diagnosis. When lame cows fail to respond to treatment, it is usually because the wrong (or no) diagnosis has been made prior to treatment.

4. Provide adequate facilities to work on lame cows. Most dairymen can justify purchasing some type of foot trimming chute. If you are asking your staff to lift and examine feet, basic and simple foot trimming chutes are adequate. Eliminate any excuse for your staff person to ignore examining lame cows.

Preventive foot trimming
Trimming the feet of cows at dry-off is an industry-accepted recommendation. Like the need to trim your fingernails, hoof tissue grows and wears down differently from cow to cow and dairy to dairy. Evaluating and trimming feet at least once during each lactation is a logical measure to maximize cow comfort. Cows “walk through” the next several months of calving stress and high milk production with minimal risk for lameness when correct foot trimming is performed at dry-off.

Preventive foot trimming is done to reshape the foot. Not every foot of every dry cow needs to be trimmed. The goal should be to evaluate all four feet of the dry cow, reshape the claws that are abnormal and eliminate any subclinical foot lesions that are identified at this examination. Too often, zealous but untrained persons over-trim cows and cause lameness that becomes evident after calving.

Preventive foot trimming is done by a three-step process I outlined for your herdsman in the El Lechero article. Whether you have an off-farm specialist do preventive foot trimming or teach a staff person to do it, systemize their approach so that the process is correct and fast. In many cases, professional foot trimmers are fast and experienced; their expense is justified and a good investment. In other cases, trained on-farm staff persons can do the job on a more timely basis and more cost-effectively.

Lameness is expensive; it affects milk production, reproduction, and is an animal welfare issue. Proper preventive trimming is a necessary and cost-effective investment; it is proven to reduce the incidence of lameness when done properly. Dairy owners will impact the profit of their operation by training staff members to attack lame cow problems immediately. Preventive foot trimming should be accomplished with either properly trained staff members or by qualified, professional off-farm specialists. PD

Tom Fuhrmann
  • Tom Fuhrmann

  • President
  • Dairy Works