Lame cows simply don't produce as well as cows with healthy hooves, says Alvaro Garcia, South Dakota State University Professor and Dairy Specialist, all the more reason to monitor hoof health and determine better management options.
Garcia says lameness post-calving has been associated with delayed estrous cycles, cystic ovaries, lower pregnancy to first AI, and longer calving-to-conception intervals. The associated pain with lameness affects cow behavior and reduces intake, worsening the negative energy balance which occurs post-calving.
Days to first AI, days open, time spent in the breeding group and services per conception are prolonged in lame cows. Lame cows had a 3.5 times greater probability of delayed cycles, according to results from two separate studies.
The authors concluded that the return to normal cycles in lame cows can be improved by 71% by just preventing the onset of lameness, Garcia said.
Wet conditions also have an impact on hoof health, he says. Nearly one-third of the total water absorbed by the hoof is during the first hour of exposure to high moisture, reducing hooves' hardness and increases the incidence of lesions.
Bacteria such as Fusobacterium necrophorus and Bacteroides melaninogenicus can cause foot rot and digital dermatitis or hairy heel warts. Hairy heel warts are still one of the leading lameness causes in the U.S., Garcia says.
Lameness costs can be directly due to treatment or indirectly from a decrease in reproduction and production or early culling, so it's best to avoid it from the start.
Finding ways to decrease the incidence of hoof injuries and infections can be accomplished by footbaths and hoof trimming, Garcia says. Hooves not trimmed on a regular basis will grow unevenly, resulting in weight-bearing changes that damage the underlying tissues.
Garcia suggests the most common substance added to footbaths is copper sulfate at 2.5 to 5% or 26 pounds of copper sulfate in 62 gallons of water. The solution should be replaced often and kept free of organic matter to remain effective.