Farming Type

Loose-housed/free-stall system

In a loose-housed/free-stall barn, cows are usually housed on concrete with cubicle beds for the winter months, and on some farms all year round. This has a detrimental effect on hoof health due to the hard surfaces cows have to stand and walk on, the damp and often overcrowded conditions, and the high risk of disease transmission. To reduce susceptibility to hoof problems, and to help prevent the spread of disease, cows should be kept in conditions that are as dry as possible.

Infectious hoof diseases often account for a large proprotion of lameness seen in these types of systems ( approximately 20 percent is attributed to DD), as well as wear and tear caused by walking on hard surfaces every day. Infectious lameness (DD and foul of the foot/interdigital phlegmon) is season and typically occurs more often in winter when cows are inside and exposed to slurry. When farmers put their cows out in the summer, the problem is relieved and infection rates normally reduce. In a study of 900 cows over 18 months, Blowey et all (2004) found that lameness occurred throughout the lactation but peaked three months after calving, digital dermatitis and foul of the foot where primarily winter diseases, and sole and heel ulcers occurred all year round. White line disease occurred in four month cycles

Straw Yard System

Cows housed in straw yards probably experience lower levels of physical trauma or stress damage to their hooves, but could still experience infectious diseases such as mastitis if their bedding isn’t regularly changed. It is generally recommended that straw yards should have ten kg of straw per cow per day in order to keep them clean and comfortable. Levels of infectious hoof diseases are also generally low in straw yards as exposure is low and conditions are much drier than in free stall-based systems. Straw can also potentially have an abrasive cleaning effect on the claws, meaning that slurry is less likely to dry on the hooves.

Tied-up System

Lameness is usually observed during milking or by moving through the alleys when cows are active. In tied-up systems, this is more difficult and normally carried out during exercise periods if they exist; if not it can be difficult to detect mild or subtle cases of lameness. Tied cows are known to experience physical wear and tear type hoof problems but generally have lower levels of infectious disease as they do not often mix and are not exposed to slurry in alleys for long periods. Some studies have documented that rubber mats in tied-up systems can significantly reduce sole lesions, compared with concrete for instance.

Grass-Based system

Cows in these systems are on grass all year round and generally experience few infectious hoof problems. Trauma issues mostly occur when the cows are being moved, causing high levels of sole ulcers, separation of the white line. interdigital skin damage and abscesses forming under the hoof wall.

When cows are being moved to the parlour for milking, they should ideally be allowed to wander at their own speed. Cows have a ranking and a walking order they will follow every time they go up the track. The most dominant cow sets the walking speed and the others follow. If a more dominant cow stops, the cows behind will stop and wait for her to move for­ward. If forced or pushed along the track too quickly, the order is disrupted, the cows become stressed and aggressive, bunch up, and foot wear and trauma becomes a problem. Because the cows are unable to take the time to watch where they put their front feet, they will often damage themselves on stones or other obstacles. The rear feet no longer follow the vacated position of the front feet and are placed outside the track of the front feet, and the stride and step length are compromised.

When cows bunch up in this way they can no longer use their heads as a counter balance; they are forced upwards making the cows much more likely to stumble or step on something painful. This situation mainly occurs as a result of a farmer chasing the cows on a motorbike, on horseback or with a dog, rather than letting them walk freely at their own speed. Following or encouraging the cows to keep walking is fine, as they are followers and will automatically go with the flow of cow traffic, but it is important not to rush them.

Track management

Good management of cow tracks is essential to prevent unnecessary lameness. A comfortable track will aid walking speed and automatically reduce lameness. Bark or wood chips make an ideal top surface, whereas material such as gravel should never be used.

Tracks should ideally be less than one kilometre long. The minimum width depends on the number of cows you have, but for herds of more than 250 cows it should be no narrower than approximately 6m. Tracks should be level, straight, have an even width with no bottlenecks, have a crowned surface so water can run off (ideally with a slope of 3-5 percent but no more than 8 percent), have a non-abrasive top surface, good drainage, and should widen towards the parlour collecting yard. Tracks should be checked often and be well maintained; for example, any stones that collect should be removed so they don’t pose a risk to cows’ feet.

track

Information kindly provided by DeLaval UK