FOUNTAIN, Minn. – Hoof care is a crucial part of raising dairy cattle. From maintaining the older cows to getting the young heifers started right, the Johnsons keep a close eye on their cattle’s feet and legs.
“We used to have a lot of hairy warts when I first started managing,” said Michael Johnson of Trailside Holsteins. “Now we see little to no wart issues and very few abscesses.”
The hoof trimmer was at Trailside Holsteins during the first week of the year. The Johnsons typically have the trimmer there about every four weeks and the cows will get trimmed at least every six months, more if needed.
The cattle tracking computer program they use has been very helpful in monitoring the cattle’s hooves and making sure the right cows are getting trimmed when needed.
“When we're sorting cows, I have my phone in one hand and a list in the other hand. I'm always looking up cows and checking them on the computer,” Michael said. “Having that technology with me as I'm getting cows sorted and deciding on which ones to hoof trim is pretty awesome.”
Every cow that gets trimmed has that event recorded on the computer program, which Michael can access via his phone. Additionally, during the process of health checking the animals, Michael or his employees can make notes in the system for cows that may need a trim earlier than the usual six months.
“I might see a cow that maybe looks long, but she's not on the list, so I'll look her up,” he said. “Some cows just have that look where they always look long.”
The trimmer will do about 100 head each time he is at the farm. Along with recording each animal that was trimmed, notes are taken about that animal, the condition of the hooves and any follow up that might need to be done.
That information is recorded digitally by the trimmer. Right now, the two programs, Trailside’s and the trimmer’s, do not communicate and Michael must enter the information into his system by hand. The trimmer is working on fixing that issue so the information can just be digitally uploaded, saving Michael a step and removing a chance for human error that a treatment animal will get missed.
“There will usually be 3-5 percent each time he's here. If he does 100 head, we will maybe need to wrap or have abscesses on three or five of them,” he said.
In addition to tracking hoof health better with the software program, the Johnsons changed the foot bath protocol on the farm. That had a significant effect on herd hoof health.
“We run a foot bath with an acidifier and copper sulfate one milking five days a week,” Michael said. “The night crew prepares the foot bath and then the cows go through it Monday through Friday in the mornings.”
Foot health is very much affected by environment, cleanliness of the pens and quality of bedding. It can also be affected by genetics.
New research in the dairy industry is suggesting the way heifer barns are designed and built can also impact hoof health as the cattle enter the milking herd, particularly causing or preventing corkscrew hoof growth.
“That is something we've been thinking a lot about and we’re trying to incorporate the best management practices in this heifer barn that we are building,” he said. “We've been consulting with our hoof trimmer quite a bit as we've been building it.”
Currently, heifers are raised at an older feedlot that the Johnsons rent. By building their own barn, they can bring the heifers closer to the farm, which will save them rent cost.
The research suggests corkscrew hoof development starts when young heifers push hard against the head stalls to get to their feed. Newer barns do not use feed bunks, which allows the feed to get pushed further away from the animal, plus it’s placed on the ground, further from the animals.
The amount of traction newer barns have are due to the way grooves are cut into the concrete, which gives the heifers better grip as they push their head and neck through to reach feed.
“With all that pressure early on in growth, that's causing a long-term problem, basically the ligaments aren't developing correctly,” he said.
In their new heifer barn, the plan is to have the concrete higher in the feed alley for the younger animals, bringing the feed closer to them. They are also looking at including an automatic feed pusher, so the animals do not need to reach for feed.
“They won't have as far of a reach down to the feed and they'll stand correctly when they're eating,” Michael said. “We still haven't decided on how we're going to groove the cement and how aggressive we want to do that, so that's something that we're still talking with the cement guys and hoof trimmer about.”