The core focus of our business - presently Cowcare trim and treat the feet of over 20,000 cows a year in Canterbury and North Otago. The vast majority of these customers come to us through recommendation. All three of our hoof trimmers use the “Dutch” method of hoof trimming - a proven technique developed around 40 years ago by a Dutch veterinary professor and lecturer at the University of Utrecht. It is now recognised throughout Europe and North America as the best way to achieve balance in cattle claws, to treat the onset of lameness and help maintain healthy hooves.

The technique consists of a number of steps that result in the hooves being balanced, both individually and between inner and outer claw. This provides even weight loading between the claws and is of great significance as white line lesions and haemorrhaging are nearly always found in the higher, longer and therefore overloaded claw.

Is this not just something that they do for intensively farmed dairy cows in Europe?

Most European cows are producing at higher levels, due to the intensive nature of the farming systems, and spend considerable time on hard surfaces so regular maintenance and treatment of their feet is common place. In fact some of these cows will see the hoof trimmer 2 or 3 times a season. Here in NZ with our pasture based system the issues we encounter are white line disease, high levels of haemorrhage within the claw, foul in the foot, sole overgrowth and sole or wall ulcers.

With the exception of foul in the foot which is caused by bacterial infection in the space between the claws all these other issues will generally show them selves in the inbalanced (higher and thicker) claw. This is almost always the outer claw of the back feet. The principal preventative step therefore is to identify those cows in the herd that have this height difference and present them for routine trimming BEFORE a lameness episode occurs.

From our experience most larger herds in the South Island can have between 10% and 20% of their cattle with significant imbalance between the claws.

How do you identify these cattle?

Look for those cattle with a “hocked” or base wide stance in the rear legs. Over loading and contusion of the tissue that actually grows the horn ( the corium ) will lead to inflammation and pain hence the cow adapting this stance to try and relieve the outer claw.

Other ways to identify cattle with some degree of lameness that may require attention include “locomotion scoring” your cows. This involves observation of the cattle walking and pays particular attention not only to obvious limping but also identifies those cattle walking with an arched back – a definite sign of early stage lameness.Recent research in Europe has suggested that cows with a locomotion score of "3" - walking with an arched back - drop production by around 15%

How do you treat lame cattle?

Every cow presented to us for treatment will firstly have its claws trimmed and correctly balanced. Only after this has been done will we then move on to the stage of treating the problem. This will usually entail the removal of all loose horn around any lesion and the trimming of the area around the wound so as to remove thick/sharp edges from pinching upon the wound. Claw height is then adjusted through trimming and/or applying a claw block to the healthy claw in order to relieve pressure on the wound.

We use wooden claw blocks as these last for approx 6 to 8 weeks in most cases and tend to match the time required for healing. Hard compound plastic blocks can remain on for months so would require removal by staff and some soft compound plastic blocks will last little more than a week or two under N.Z conditions – far too short a period for most lameness to heal!

Whenever required we will advise if a cow requires treatment with antibiotics although we require that you or your staff actually administer this.

How many cows can you treat?

This depends on the degree of lameness, flow of cattle to the crushes and a few other factors such as the number of claw block or front feet needing to be trimmed…….each of our trimmers is normally comfortable with 50 to 60 cows between milkings or over 100 in a full day. If we are able to set up two crushes then we can easily double these numbers in the same timeframe.