Dr. Simon Kenyon
School of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University

The expression "No foot, no horse" could just as easily have been coined for cows. Feet and leg problems continue to be major causes of involuntary culling in dairy herds and impact both production and longevity. Foot problems in dairy cows have many causes. Infectious problems, such as hairy warts, are still with us and can be a nightmare on their own, as well as increasing the severity of other problems. Nutritional causes of laminitis are very important, especially an excess of starchy feeds and marginal fiber levels, but stress plays an important role too. First calf heifers, in particular, are susceptible to laminitis as a result of being introduced into a herd of dominant cows. The nature of the surface on which cows walk, and the amount of time cows can be kept off concrete can also be crucial elements in maintaining foot health.

laminitis Laminitis is inflammation of the sensitive tissues of the foot lying immediately under the horn of the hoof. It is recognizable by paring the sole of the foot and looking for yellow discoloration or blood spots in the sole, erosion of the heel, and sole abscesses, or under-running of the sole. In chronic cases there is unevenness and raised rings around the hoof wall, uneven growth of the hoof and elongation of the toe leading to "ski" or "skid" foot. The cause is mainly nutritional, especially rumen acidosis. The initial damage is made much worse by stress on the foot, caused by forced standing, non-resilient walking surfaces, such as concrete, and sudden movement, such as those which occur when a cow is subject to aggression by another, dominant, cow.

Here are some suggestions for maintaining foot health and preventing laminitis in the dairy herd:

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