Paying attention to hoof health is an important way to improve transition management and overall herd performance, according to Dr. Huw McConochie, dairy nutritionist with Zinpro Corporation.
Dr. McConochie emphasises that providing adequate feed space is critical to maintain dry matter intake (DMI) during transition while stocking rate, cubicle design and size are important to encourage sufficient lying times.
“It is important to do everything possible to reduce stress in transition cows. Keep group changes to a minimum and do not move cows between two and seven days pre-calving,” Dr. McConochie said.
“Having a place for cows to calve quietly reduces other risks.
He points out that lameness is a major issue affecting both herd health and productivity, and particularly during the critical transition period.
“Lame cows have reduced DMI during the dry and transition periods. Any cows lame during transition tend to lose excessive weight in early lactation and reduced DMI is a key characteristic of cows that go on to have an increased incidence of transition diseases, so it is important to ensure cows have healthy claws.”
He stressed that prevention is key and advises foot trimming all cows a month before drying off and then assessing any cows identified with lesions again at the point of drying off.
If any infectious lesions are present in the dry pen, then footbath all cows regularly.
Heifers should be foot-trimmed 6-8 weeks before calving. Cubicle comfort and extended lying times help protect the structures of the hoof so pay attention to these.
Reducing the impact of lameness on transition
To help farmers reduce the impact of lameness on transition, Zinpro has recently updated and extended its FirstStep Program.
Dr. McConochie said the program allows advisers to go onto dairy farms and make an assessment of hoof health, but more importantly the program builds recommendations and offers guidelines to improve hoof health and reduce the costs associated with lameness.
The assessment can include locomotion scoring, the hoof trimming schedule and technique, management and hygiene of footbaths, environmental factors such as walking surfaces and cubicle design, identification of foot lesions and nutrition.
A new module, the Transition Assessor, is based on new work that Prof. Nigel Cook and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin have done which shows that transition is a high-risk period for hoof health and that those cows which transition poorly are at greater risk of developing hoof lesions later in lactation.
Small changes to make a big difference
“Once the assessment has been completed, the data gathered are analyzed to develop an action plan contained in a detailed report addressing the core improvement areas,” Dr. Huw McConochie said.
“This means farmers can focus first on those areas of their management which will deliver the best return, replacing guesswork with an evidence-based approach.
“We appreciate that not everyone has the ability or the finance available to make major changes. Could the way in which the cows are grouped be changed to make better use of the facilities? Are there ways to create more feed space? How can more time in the day be created for the cows to lie down?
“These are the kind of practical, but realistic small changes that can make a big difference. It’s a matter of making the best of what you have got.”
“One of the great things about the FirstStep Program is that it also allows you to design facilities,” Dr. McConochie said.
“For example, based on the cows in the herd and other factors such as types of bedding you can design the perfect cubicle for that farm, improving cow comfort and increasing lying times.”
In terms of return on investment, improving transition facilities can be a relatively small outlay, but can deliver a significant potential return.
The right trace minerals for the right results
In addition to providing the most suitable facilities, Dr. McConochie said it is important to ensure the diet of transition cows is correctly formulated, including trace mineral supply.
“Research data on the transition period shows that feeding the correct level and source of trace minerals during this time leads to a reduction in transition diseases, as well as improvements in milk production and hoof health in the first 10 weeks of lactation,” Dr. McConochie said.
“By getting the supplementation with trace minerals right, the animal has a more robust immune system, it then actually uses less energy and has more glucose for production, while at the same time helping reproductive performance and maintenance of healthy claws.
“There is good evidence that indicates that cows fed Zinpro Performance Minerals have better hoof health as a result of having a better glucose balance. This arises from the unique way these trace minerals are absorbed via the amino acid transporter.”
By Jonathan Huxtable, ruminant country manager – UK, Ireland and Finland, Zinpro Corporation and Dr. Huw McConochie, dairy nutritionist technical services – International, Zinpro Corporation
For more information, visit the Zinpro website by clicking here.