Ask the Hoof Trimmer
I have a question related to sand bedding. We converted to sand bedding about a year ago and it seems that we’re now getting more lameness then before. Our problems seem to be mostly white line defects in all four feet. Our professional hoof trimmer has tried different trimming methods and he’s doing his best to keep the problems under control. The floor is quite wet, causing the hoofs to be soft, and the barn is filled to maximum capacity. Do you have an answer for our lameness issues?
Thank you for your question. Off the top of my head, I can suggest a few things. I have trimmed some herds that are on sand bedding, but I’m certainly not an expert on sand: that’s why I am going to make ‘suggestions’ rather than give you ‘answers’.
1. A related research article. I would like to start by directing you to a research article that was published by Dairy Science: http://www.dairyscience.ca/Resources/Research/jds91/jds91_570.pdf (especially table 3). This research study showed that hoof problems decrease with the use of sand for bedding. This is also what our experience has been with sand. In my opinion, it is fair to say that the sand itself is not to blame for the increase in problems in your herd. Cows love sand and prefer it as a source of ‘bedding’.
2. Soft hooves. You have indicated that you see a lot of moisture, which you think is causing softness of the hoof. However, this moisture is not directly the cause of your problems. (Notwithstanding, it is always better to have the floors clean and dry. The dryer, the better.)
3. Overall health. Have you noticed any increase in other overall disorders, like mastitis or DA’s? These might be the cause of laminitis, as they can result in poor and therefore weaker horn production. These are significant causes of lameness and have no direct relationship to the sand bedding.
4. Slippery floors. Due to the sand, I cannot believe that the floors are slippery; although slippery floors can result in a greater occurrence of hoof problems.
5. Slopes. Are there slopes in the holding area? Are there long waiting times for milking? If the cows are waiting longer than desired before they are milked or if the floors are excessively sloped, this too can increase the occurrence of hoof defects and will often appear especially as white line defects.
6. Wearing and trimming of the hooves. One final point that comes to mind is excessive wear. Sand can cause a lot of extra wear on the sole, and I have noticed a negative balance between wear and growth. My advice on this is to keep enough ‘sole-thickness’ in place and to play it safe when removing the horn on trimming day. The horn is there to protect the corium and we should keep the balance in mind: I’m sure you and I are on the same page with this one. If we are dealing with short hooves, we should not trim just for the sake of ‘having done something’ or just to make it ‘nice and white’. It is also important to provide relief for the problem animals and keep them on a softer surface, giving the hoof a ‘rest period’. In cases of excessive wear, I encourage the use of hoof blocks to promote healing.
I understand the frustrations and disappointments these lame cows are causing, but keep up the good work. Tweak a little here and there and perhaps experiment a little on a small number of animals: try something on 5 cows and if that works, then you can continue this method on the rest of the herd. Veterinarian advice is always a good option, too.
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