Fewer cows with sore feet

with Sue Edmonds

How often does the small paddock next to the farm dairy contain cows with sore feet?  Probably too often. Lameness is sometimes the bane of a farmer’s life.

So, when I attended a recent SMASH seminar where Neil Chesterton was the hugely entertaining and informative speaker, all of us there learned a lot.

Neil has been a practising vet in Inglewood, where he arrived after graduating from Sydney University in 1974. Since 1980 his focus of interest has been on lameness in pasture-fed cows. He’s published papers, made and uses videos, and now focuses on passing on his knowledge through his specialist business Vet Education Transfer Services Ltd. Much in demand, he now travels around New Zealand and overseas for about four months a year, teaching vets and farmers. His informative website can be found at: www.lamecow.co.nz/about-neil.shtml

We’ve all heard everyone’s views on the ‘causes’ of lameness. But Neil began his session by telling us about the best advice he was given at a conference, where another vet advised him to cease using the word ‘causes’ because it put people off. Instead he should be advising folk to look for ‘risk factors’, which placed the onus on farmers and workers of finding out why lameness with different symptoms was occurring.

Risk factors

Risk factors are why there is often injury, which promptly gets an infection. Although metabolic factors can be involved, they occur far less often. Neil advocates careful record keeping on lameness, which ensures early detection and prompt effective treatment of the true problem. Neil has found that sole injuries account for about 30 per cent, white line injuries about 40 per cent, axial injuries 12 per cent, footrot eight per cent and solar ulcers just one per cent. Also, when cows spend part of their time on hard-surfaced indoor facilities, digital dermatitis has become a new problem; and this can be spread around the herd.

He’s devised a footbath which actually works, and can be really useful where footrot and dermatitis occur frequently.

Races, especially those with slopes and corners as well as surface irregularities, can be big risk factors, mainly due to the effects on cow flow, which is probably the major risk problem. Cow age and nature also play a big part.

Always plural

Neil showed a video with ‘assertive’ cows pushing shyer heifers near an electric fence. In trying to avoid the fence younger cows were trying to go backwards and getting bunted by those around them, and when they all came to a bend we saw cows crossing their back legs trying to lean away from the fence.

In Neil’s long experience the risks are always plural, and discovering them all takes careful watching and note taking. Another video showed the agony some cows have to endure before anyone does anything about their lameness.

At calving time the ligaments, even in the feet, soften, allowing the pedal bone to tip down into the fat pad on the sole, causing solar ulcers which are extremely painful.

We are all aware that some herds have to walk marathon distances to and from the shed, generally twice a day. So, finding the risk factors on your farm and fixing them will be the best way to keep the herd flowing, vet bills down and happy cows.


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