Good foot health is one of the most significant production animal welfare factors and also a key factor for the producer. In the majority (approx. 90%) of cases, the cause of limping is in the hooves. If the animals do not move sufficiently or at all, both health and production-related problems may arise. Acute cases must be treated quickly and efficiently.
Limping causes a decrease in output, which is, depending on the study, 160–570 kg per limping animal. For a herd of a hundred cows, this means 8,000–28,500 kg a year. Depending on the foot disease, the losses due to treatment costs and withdrawal period milk can amount to from thousands to tens of thousands of euros a year.
A bovine with a sore foot that moves only a little does not eat enough. This may cause an energy deficiency, which is the underlying cause for the majority of fertility disorders. The effects of limping on fertility are manifold: delayed heat, decreased heat behaviour, increased amount of ovarian disorders, and longer calving intervals. A limping cow does not jump in heat as vigorously as a cow with healthy feet. In addition to fertility problems, limping also exposes cows to many other diseases, such as ketosis, bovine mastitis, and abomasum diseases.
Balanced feeding, optimal conditions, dry corridors and regular professional hoof trimming create the foundation for good hoof health. Cows must have constant access to fodder that contains a sufficient amount of roughage in relation to concentrated fodder. The sufficient fibre content of silage is essential. The condition class must remain at the appropriate level in relation to the output without significant changes.
The aim is that cows do not stand in the manure alley for no reason. While lying in the stall, their hooves dry and stay dry for a longer period of time. The cubicles must be inviting: the cow has to have enough room to stand in the cubicle without the hind legs remaining in the manure alley, and lying down and getting up must be unobstructed and painless. Cleanliness and dryness of the cowhouse: efficient air conditioning and functional manure removal are essential for good hoof health.
Regular professional hoof trimming is one of the most important factors in hoof health. The hooves of cows must be treated regularly, at least once every six months. Acute limping and acute bovine mastitis are comparable diseases whose treatment must be started as soon as possible.
Abroad, contagious hoof diseases have been spreading in an alarming way. For instance in Denmark in 1992, digital dermatitis was discovered in 20% of the free-range areas. In 2014, 99% of all livestock in Denmark were infected. Contagious hoof diseases are also spreading in an alarming way in Finland, but the situation is under control for now. New animals are acquired in a controlled manner and a health certificate by the Animal Health ETT association is always used in connection with animal sales. If young stock is being raised in a heifer hotel, it must be ensured that the operating model of the heifer hotel is appropriate and in accordance with the instructions of the Animal Health ETT association.
Digital dermatitis. Photo Reijo Junni.
Interdigital overgrowth. Photo Reijo Junni.