Lameness is a significant issue for both beef and dairy farms, causing losses from reduced production (average loss of 400l/lame cow, with yields dropping up to two months before the cow goes visibly lame), lost body condition, poor fertility, increased treatment costs, increased labour and increased culling.

We need to highlight the importance of digital dermatitis and in particular those carrier cows that may be difficult to spot without having a good look at your cows’ feet. A heifer infected with digital dermatitis before she calves is five times more likely to become lame during lactation. This emphasises the importance of foot bathing heifers pre-calving – not forgetting dry cows as well. We appreciate this isn’t practical during the summer months, but in winter, with all stock inside, this becomes a far easier task.

The latest thinking is to consider digital dermatitis as you would mastitis, and so foot bathing like teat-dipping. Foot bathing daily will show markedly improved results when compared to every other or twice weekly – if done correctly. Know the volume of your foot bath to ensure correct dilution and effective treatment. There is a vast array of products available – speak to your vet if you would like advice on a practical and effective foot bathing plan.

One important recent finding is the changes to the pedal bone (the bone that sits in the hoof) that are apparent in chronically lame cows. Those cows that suffer with recurrent conditions, such as white line and sole ulcers, form new bone, often in the form of sharp spicules, in the area adjacent to the area of infection. This new bone undoubtedly causes discomfort, and through the damage it causes to the corium (the layer that is responsible for horn production), hinders the development of new healthy horn, predisposing her to further episodes of lameness. Cows that have already formed this new bone are likely to be those cows that seem not to respond despite frequent treatment and blocking. In this situation, amputation of the digit would be the best course of action. This therefore highlights that prevention is better than cure, but also the importance of early detection and treatment, and reminds us of the role of mobility scoring. The focus of mobility scoring should be to concentrate on treating those number 2s before they become 3s. Mobility scoring shouldn’t become one of those worthless exercises we go through to satisfy a milk processor or supermarket.

Finally, we must remember that lameness is painful, and the use of a non-steroidal as part of your treatment protocol can help aid recovery and minimise losses in addition to improving animal welfare. There are a range of suitable NSAID drugs available and you should get vet advice as to which is most appropriate for you.

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