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Routine foot trimming has become an important tool for dairy farmers in controlling mobility problems in the herd. Nearly all lameness problems originate around, in or between the claws, and therefore a simple, safe - for the operator as well as the cow - and effective system for handling and inspecting cows' feet will encourage prompt inspection and treatment, particularly on farms where farm staff members and not outside contractors regularly perform foot trimming.
Every animal in the herd should have its feet lifted, inspected and if required trimmed at least once every year, ideally at drying-off. If practicable, a further inspection mid-lactation may also be useful in spotting potential problems, if this is not likely to coincide with either turnout or housing.
The primary aims of good foot trimming are:
- Returning hooves to the ideal shape so that they are balanced, better capable of supporting the cow's weight and less likely to be affected by future problems.
- Removing horn around an ulcer or lesion in order to reduce any pain caused by the lesion by reducing the pressure on it as the cow transfers weight onto the claw when walking, promoting increased mobility and aiding healing. This may also involve the fitting of a 'block' or similar device to further reduce the trauma of a lesion.
- Removing dead and diseased horn and other tissue to promote the growth of healthy new horn.
- Removing horn to promote the draining of muck and slurry from around a lesion - and also any pus formed by an infection - to discourage the formation of abscesses.
Where either routine inspection, inspection prompted by regular Mobility Scoring or a specific lameness issue indicates a foot problem, farm staff should only trim if they have sufficient competence in, experience of and are preferably trained in foot trimming procedures. Organisations such as LANTRA and NPTC, as well as veterinary groups and agricultural colleges, provide foot trimming courses aimed at dairy farmers and herdspeople. The Dutch Five Step method is the standard recognised means of trimming cattle feet.
Knowledge of the various potential causes of lameness is paramount in devising the correct course of treatment, particularly where infection is present or large amounts of the hoof horn are affected; poor diagnosis and over-trimming can lead to further problems, causing increased pain and lengthening recovery times, rather than the desired aim of trimming in speeding recovery.
It is also important that - particularly where infectious illnesses such as digital dermatitis are present in the herd - the foot trimmer understands and follows hygienic procedures in order to limit the spread of infectious illness between cows in the herd.
The use of a trained self-employed foot trimming contractor should be considered where staff members do not have the time or skills to deal with large numbers of cows, either routinely or where Mobility Scoring has identified the need for extensive foot trimming. Specialist foot-trimmers are also likely to be professionally-trained, be highly-experienced in identifying and diagnosing problems and will be equipped with the most effective tools to efficiently inspect and treat large numbers of cows.
The National Association of Cattle Foot Trimmers provides a database of its members which includes details of training levels. Categories range from those who are self-taught up to trained members who hold certificates of competence and undergo frequent re-assessment.