Don’t Stand For Foot Problems In Your Herd

It’s a cliché but prevention really is the best cure for hoof problems, according to an Ontario veterinarian who specializes in bovine foot care.

And at the top of Gerard Cramer’s prevention list is preventing foot rot and digital dermatitis by ensuring feet are comfortable, clean, regularly trimmed and evaluated.

In particular, producers need to make sure manure is not a problem, Cramer told attendees at the recent Western Canadian Dairy seminar.

“Manure eats the horn of the skin, softens the skin, grows the bacteria and spreads the bacteria,” said Cramer. “Our prevention program has to focus on eliminating exposure or removing that manure from the foot. That’s what I want you to think about when you think about infectious diseases.”


Hoof horn lesions, such as sole ulcers, white line disease, abscesses or hemorrhages, are caused by damage to the hoof-producing area of the foot, known as the corium. When the corium is damaged, poor-quality horn is produced, and this can lead to lameness or other problems. Corium can be damaged by excessive standing, and hormones released during calving can also cause the hoof to become softer, increasing the potential for damage. When a cow is lying down, she relieves weight from the corium and nothing will happen.

Damage to the corium is permanent.

“Once a cow has a sole ulcer, for example if she gets one in the first lactation, she will probably have one or signs of one in her second or third lactation,” said Cramer.

“The other thing we need to remember is that these lesions are very painful.”


The first step to building a hoof-health program is to record lesion and foot data.

“It does no good to take the written record or the printout that your trimmer needs and file it somewhere,” said Cramer. “We need to get it into the hands of people who know what that data means.”

Monitoring and good record-keeping helps producers know how changes on their farm affect foot health, and if things are improving or worsening over time. For example, knowing if lesions occur in a specific stage in a cow’s life cycle can allow an expert to zero in on the problem and offer a solution.

Cows with foot problems or lameness also need to be identified and treated as early as possible.

“If you want to reduce the number of lame cows on your farm, find them and treat them,” said Cramer.

Since specialized knowledge is required, Cramer suggests having a hoof trimmer come to the farm more often so he or she can monitor the cows.


Producers can also learn how to trim feet so they can monitor their own animals, said Cramer. Cows with foot rot need to be treated with antibiotics while cows with hoof horn lesions need to have weight removed from that foot using blocks. The foot may need to be wrapped if it is bleeding heavily. Cows with digital dermatitis need to be treated with a tetracycline wrap or paste.

There are simple protocols that reduce foot problems in your dairy herd.

“We focus on clean and dry feet,” Cramer said. “We want to see almost no manure above the dewclaws. We need to change our strategies. In my opinion, digital dermatitis is probably the easiest foot disease to control.”

Facilities not designed for easy manure removal increase the need for more frequent foot baths, and floors need to be clean and dry.

“If you have a slatted floor, you need to scrape it,” Cramer said.

Cramer prefers scraping floors with a tractor and does not believe that alley scrapers are as effective.

“In most studies, alley scrapers are associated with lameness and not just digital dermatitis, but also an increase in sole ulcers,” he said.

Reduced standing times improves foot health. During an average day, most cows spend about 12 hours lying down; seven hours eating, drinking and socializing: two hours standing in their stall; and about three hours related to milking and management.


Foot disease can be reduced if cows spend more time standing in the stall rather than in the alley. Cows enjoy lying on a skiff of shaving and will spend more time lying in their stalls when there is extra bedding.

“It’s a simple solution that doesn’t cost much money and doesn’t require you to renovate your barn,” said Cramer.

Rubber flooring can be beneficial, but expensive. To minimize that cost, producers can put rubber in strategic areas where cows are forced to stand, such as the milking parlour or the holding pen.

Cramer encourages the practice of foot dipping, which he refers to as “dips” rather than “baths” because he wants producers to think about foot dipping the same way that they think about teat dipping, which is done every day.

“Digital dermatitis is an environmental disease. Why do we foot bath three times a week every other week when cows are working through manure every day?” he asked. “We probably need to run them through a foot bath every day.”

Foot bathing or dipping should be done to prevent lesions, not treat them. It should be routine, said Cramer, because a cow that walks through a foot bath every day will get used to it.


Ifyouwanttoreduce thenumberoflame cowsonyourfarm,find themandtreatthem.”


About the author


Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for the Glacier FarmMedia publication, the Alberta Farmer Express, since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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