Hoof health deserves structural attention

category Article, Health

Taking hoof health seriously pays dividends. In practice, however, hoof trimmers still come across few signs of improvement. Their conclusion is that ‘too many farmers simply accept claw and hoof problems as inevitable. A structured approach is still often lacking.’

The hoof health of Dutch and Flemish dairy cows seems to be improving. At least, that is what an analysis of data from DigiKlauw shows. This data registration system set up by CRV in cooperation with the Animal Health Service (GD) enables hoof trimmers to register the disorders they observe in the course of their work per cow. They also score the severity of the disorder. DigiKlauw is a tool that monitors the hoof problems of individual cows, as well as providing insight into the development of hoof health in a herd. In addition, cow data from DigiKlaw, linked with pedigree information, is used to estimate the breeding values for hoof and claw disorders. At present, the database has registered data collected from more than 1.4 million heifers and cows in the Netherlands and Flanders.

Mortellaro most persistent problem

‘Since DigiKlauw was introduced, the percentage of hoof problems on the farms taking part in the program has fallen year-on-year. Last year, for example, 22.4 % fewer hoof issues were recorded than in 2007’, says Pieter van Goor, breeding technician and project head of DigiKlauw at CRV. ‘We are also noticing a clear shift in the share of the various disorders’, he indicates.

Figure 1 shows the average number of registered disorders per 100 cows per year, broken down into various categories. Please note that a cow has four hoofs and is usually treated by the hoof trimmer several times a year. The statistics on the number of sole haemorrhages are worth noting. This figure fell from more than 35 in 2007 to less than 15 in the past year. The incidence of interdigital dermatitis also shows a strong downward trend: from 29 cases per 100 dairy cows in 2007 to 9.5 in 2019. The number of white line defects clearly increased until 2014 but seems to be falling a little over the last few years. Problems associated with sole ulcers have remained more or less stable over the years, while cases of tyloma (interdigital growth) have risen slightly. However, these two disorders are relatively rare. The most persistent problem is mortellaro, which has been the most common hoof disorder since 2016.

Last year almost 22 mortellaro infections were recorded per 100 cows. A possible explanation is the higher number of barns with solid floors. This type of flooring is generally wetter than slatted floors so it provides a more favourable environment for the bacteria that cause mortellaro.

10% registration rate

However, the extent to which figures from DigiKlauw are representative of the sector is debatable. Currently, about 10% of Dutch and Flemish dairy farmers use the program. ‘These are probably mainly farmers who consciously pay more attention to hoof health and therefore implement more measures to prevent problems’, suggests Gerrit Hooijer, former head of Ruminant Healthcare at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Utrecht and chairman of the Hoof Care Expertise Centre (HEC, see box). ‘We have the impression that little progress has been made in the field of hoof health in recent years. In other words, the figures from DigiKlauw are an underestimate of the actual extent of the problems’, he thinks. ‘The development of hoof health in Dutch herds is a cause for concern’, believes Hooijer. ‘A cow with hoof problems not only costs the farmer money, she is also in pain. If this is not taken seriously, it will have negative impacts for the animals, and for the image of the sector.’