Improving Hoof Care Protocols on Dairy Farms

Hoof care is one of the ongoing problems on a dairy farm. The care of a cow’s hooves is a long process that lasts pretty much her whole life. Although there have been advancements in hoof care, there are many ways that dairies approach this problem. With more resources and tools becoming available, hoof care will soon be an easier task for farms.

Common Hoof Care Practices

Farms use a few common practices to care for cow’s hooves. Many dairies have a hoof trimmer to provide care. These are individuals who either visit the farm on a set schedule or have been trained and are an employee on the farm. Most hoof trimmers who visit the farm train throughout the year to stay up to date on care practices and trim hooves at multiple farms, so they run into all sorts of unique situations. For employees trained on the farm, they rely on past employees’ experience and any training opportunities offered by the farm. While some operations have frequent training, others might not have that opportunity. That’s where problems with hoof care protocols can possibly happen due to inexperience.

Another practice used by farms is observing cows as they enter and exit the milking parlor. Depending on the parlor set-up, an employee may be stationed near the sort gate area to quickly inspect cows as they move towards or away from the milking parlor. Much like hoof trimming, farms may rely on other employees to train new individuals. It can also be difficult to always note each cow with a potential lameness problem or see every cow when a big group moves through the area.

Finally, footbaths are a common treatment option used on a dairy farm. Placed in a high-traffic area, the footbath is meant to prevent the spread of hoof problems like digital dermatitis throughout the herd. The baths need to be monitored because of the chemicals within them and to ensure that the bath remains fairly clean to make the treatment effective. It can also take time to train cows to pass through the footbath.

What’s Coming Next in Hoof Care

While these common methods of hoof care continue to be useful for cows, changes are happening that have caused some farms to implement changes to protocols. For instance, on-staff hoof trimmers are one option that a few farms are starting to place on their payroll. While it isn’t feasible for farms of all sizes to embrace this option, if a herd is larger than 600 cows, it might be something worth considering. Between monitoring cows daily and providing hoof care, the workload for this individual can easily fill up a day. It’s also a good idea to have a main point person when hoof problems happen on the farm.

For farms that don’t hire a full-time hoof trimmer, training protocols are another change occurring on farms. Over the years, animal welfare has grown and changed, and the industry has been making updates with it. The benefit for many farms is that now many different industry groups offer on-site training for different animal welfare topics. An added bonus is the training sessions are bilingual to help all team members have the opportunity to learn new care methods. In New York State, Cornell’s Cooperative Extension teams offer to host training sessions and can create individual presentations based on a farm’s specific needs. Updating hoof care protocols is just one of the ways to improve overall animal welfare on the farm.

Technology is also playing a bigger role in hoof care. Developments in artificial intelligence and individual cow tracking have come a long way in recent years. A new opportunity for dairy farms is CattleEye. Using a camera powered with artificial intelligence, CattleEye records every cow’s gait as it exits the milking parlor and provides a score on it. Farmers can then set the parameters for alerts on what scores will cause intervention for further examination and treatment. Relying on this piece of technology can remove human errors and missed cows, which saves farms money in the long run.

Improving hoof care for dairy cows continues to develop on dairy farms. It is an area that can sometimes be overlooked but costs a lot of money in the long run. For more information about CattleEye and how it can help your farm, contact Dairy One’s Integrated Farming Solutions team by emailing [email protected] or calling or texting 607-257-1272.