An Alternative View on Lameness

It is still a widely held view that cows hooves can get bruised by standing on a stone and that the hoof can get sole penetration from sharp stones.

These are the most common reasons given when I ask participants on our hoof trimming courses where the holes and hemorrhage in the hooves come from. I would like to explore these views a little today and present alternative scenarios under which I believe these events could occur.

There is a body of evidence that suggests that stones have nothing to do with hoof lameness other than creating the conditions for foot rot. It should be noted at this point that footrot is not a hoof problem but an infectious bacterial disease that is introduced via damaged skin between the claws.

One argument I would like to focus on today is the argument of adapting to environmental changes. It is well excepted that all organisms need to adapt to their environment if they want to stay alive. There are many examples of species adapting to environmental changes. Even us humans. If we choose a lifestyle that involves hard physical labour, then our bodies respond by growing stronger muscles and more calluses on our hands. If we choose to start walking barefoot we may struggle initially and walk really tenderly over the gravel on our driveways. However, in a couple of weeks, we will have adapted to that and we can run over the same gravel path. Organisms can even adapt to poison. Think about the penicillin-resistant bacteria, and what about the rabbits that are now immune to the calicivirus?

When we see so many species adapting to their environment, why do we believe that cows would have so much trouble adjusting to being a domesticated animal? In the wild they would be encountering rocks, branches and tree roots therefore turning and pushing on concrete would seem to be a relatively small change? I would argue that a hoof in the wild encounters more trauma than the hooves of our domestic dairy cows. I can appreciate some individual cows struggling with adapting but not the cow as a species.

At DHI, we start from the premise that a healthy claw can handle virtually any physical challenge that it encounters on our dairy farms. A healthy hoof is strong enough to do the job it is designed to do.

With that being said the obvious question has to be, why then do we have lame cows on Dairy farms where life should be comparatively easy for them?

I would argue that if a cow becomes lame, there has to be an underlying issue that relates to the health of the live tissue inside the claw. These are issues relating to dietary problems, animal handling related stress, stress-related to mating and calving and lack of resting time. Even if we do not fully understand how those issues affect the health of the claw, we do know that they do. I would also argue that we should concentrate on these underlying issues and prevent lameness. A healthy hoof can then withstand whatever physical forces may impact upon the hooves exactly as it was designed to do. For many years we have tried to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Clearly this approach is not working. Is there not value then in looking at other causes and addressing them? I would really appreciate your feedback on these views. Please feel free to contact me at info@dhi.ac.nz

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