Quick and effective treatment is essential to managing lameness. All of the following information is included in the Field guide to lameness in dairy cows (PDF) - a short, step-by-step manual to assist you in the treatment of your lame animals.
Principles of treating claw lesions
Watch this video on 'Principles of treating claw lesions':
Before examining the lame cow for treatment, ensure you have all of the necessary tools to hand. You'll need to secure the animal as safely and comfortably as possible. Having some assistance while you carry out treatment is a good idea.
Treatment tool kit
Hoof knives - 1 x right handed, 1 x left handed
Hoof knife pouch (old teat-cup liner)
Straps or pulley for lifting leg
Soft rope for securing foot
Back bar or rope or support belt for cow
Cowslips or blocks
Diamond hoof knife sharpener
Fine round chainsaw file
Glove or wrist protector
Pairing hoof knife, rasp or angle grinder with sanding disc
Step 1 - Correct angle
Only when a knife is first purchased use a rough stone, a file or an angle grinder to change the inner angle (straight and curved cutting edge) of the blade to 20 degrees. The knife edge should be equally tapered.
Always sharpen the inside edge of the knife.
Step 2 - File the edge
Use a fine chainsaw file, a fine grain stone or diamond hoof knife sharpener. File the sharpened edge again.
Ensure consistent angle.
Step 3 - Protect the blade
Protect the blade while not in use inside an old teat-cup liner, piece of polythene tubing or leather cover.
Step 4 - Sharpen regularly
Touch the blade up regularly with a diamond sharpener. When sharpening a knife, have it securely held to ensure a consistent and sharp edge.
Watch this video on knife sharpening:
Farms should have appropriate facilities for treating lame cows.
Good facilities make it easy to provide prompt treatment and ultimately improve your lame cow management.
The health and safety for both cow and operator are important aspects of any treatment facility.
How to restrain a cow
Get an assistant to 'tail jack' the cow by gripping the tail near its base and lifting it up and forward over the cow's spine. When applied correctly this will prevent the cow from kicking.
Pick up the lame leg.
Using a quick release knot, secure the leg to the rail. If possible, have an assistant hold the rope, rather than trying to tie it.
Be aware! If a cow drops to her knees, with her head in the bail, this may put pressure on her windpipe, suffocating her. Putting a strap or belt under her chest can prevent this.
Watch this video to learn leg lifting techniques:
How to apply a block or cowslip
A block or cowslip goes on the good claw, not the injured claw.
Clean the foot thoroughly, then using a pairing knife scrape the sole and wall clean. An angle grinder with sanding disc may be used.
Dry the foot with methylated spirits or a hairdryer.
Check the block or cowslip for size. If necessary, you can cut the block or cowslip and then refer to glue-mixing instructions.
Apply the block or cowslip onto the healthy claw and allow the glue to dry.
White Line Disease is the separation of the wall of the hoof from the sole. The following could indicate White Line Disease:
'Break out' or abscess at the coronet (top of the claw) may occur.
Wall is split away from the sole and the space between them may be filled with sand or gravel.
If both front feet are affected a cow may stand and walk cross-legged.
When side wall is trimmed, a dark line can be found running vertically up the hoof from the sole sometimes to the coronet.
Watch this video on how to treat White Line Disease:
Axial wall crack
An axial wall crack is a crack on the inside of the toe at the join of the hoof wall and sole. The following could indicate an axial wall crack:
A vertical crack on the inside of the claw.
Crack starts at the coronet (interdigital skin/axial wall junction) and grows down towards the sole.
A pain response may occur if the hoof testers are used to squeeze the inner (axial) wall against the outer (abaxial) wall.
A small area of proud flesh might be visible under the dark, gravel-filled cavity.
The wall is under-run upwards towards the interdigital skin and down to the sole.
Watch this video on how to treat an axial wall crack:
Footrot is a bacterial infection with a putrid odour found between the claws. The following could indicate footrot:
Skin between claws is broken.
Swelling and heat between the dew claws.
It often smells.
Often occurs in wet conditions.
Common to find a stone or stick between the claws.
Watch this video on how to treat Foot Rot:
Digital dermatitis (sometimes known as hairy heelwart) is the infection of the digital and/or interdigital skin with erosion and initially painful ulcers, which become chronic and less painful (but can still be infectious). It is the most common cause of lameness in cows in the world. The following could indicate digital dermatitis:
In its early stage, it looks like a raw grey/brown ulcer at the back of the foot. Cleaning with water reveals the red surface of the ulcer.
These ulcers then develop into warts. Some of these may extend beyond the claws.
The infection may get deeper into the hoof, causing erosion and under-running of heel horn, especially if left untreated.
Eventually the ulcer or wart may appear to heal naturally or shrink, but may still be a source of infection to other cows.
Painful to begin with, causing 'shifting' lameness. Less or no pain as it becomes chronic.
Watch this video on how to treat digital dermatitis:
Sole injury is a term used to describe three possible conditions associated with damage to the sole - sole penetration, sole abscess and under-run sole. The following could indicate sole injury:
Dark hole or crack on sole leading to pocket of pus.
Not always obvious.
Hoof testers usually produce a response over the penetration - cow will flinch or try to pull away.
In heifers, presentation is often at the toe.
Sole bruising is a visible areas of bruising under the surface of the sole.
The following could indicate bruising:
The sole has reddish/dark brown areas. Don't confuse with normal pigmentation.
Patches can be localised or they can cover large portions of the sole.
Often the cow is lame in more than one foot.
Cow is often stiff when getting up and walking.
Watch this video on how to treat sole injury or sole bruising:
If you're unsure how to tackle treating lameness issues within your herd, come along to a Healthy Hooves workshop. They're presented by veterinary facilitators in a hands-on environment, where you'll have the chance to learn with practical advice and examples.
Download our lameness resources to keep or share with your on-farm staff