Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Hoof expert says routine trimming can really pay off

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The impact of the long winter has not gone unnoticed with Donegal-based hoof trimmer Francis Burns.

"There's been up to a 50pc increase in digital dermatitis on many farms simply due to the fact that cows were kept in longer than usual," said Mr Burns, who runs Millfarm Hoofcare.

Trimming over 10,000 cows a year, Mr Burns is well established in the business, with a €30,000 fully hydraulic crate.

"Farmers won't be thinking too much about digital dermatitis at this time of the year since it is really a problem that is associated with housing but I'm a firm believer in preventative care all year around," he said.

"Dermatitis loves dark sheds with high humidity. So heavily stocked sheds with poor ventilation and lighting are good breeding grounds for the fungus. I'd be advising farmers to power-hose out their sheds every summer to try to remove residues of infection for the coming winter.

"Slurry is also a no-no, so passageways need to be kept really well scraped. The research is still on-going on this pathogen, but there is a belief that the infectious organisms can hover up to a foot above slurry so preventing slatted tanks becoming over-full is also a good idea.

"Foot bathing is another key measure. The most common question that farmers ask me is how often they should foot bath. I always reply by asking them how often they teat dip – that's how often I think it should be done.

"I recommend a Dutch product called Intra Hoof-fit, which is the only product that doesn't contain antibiotics that is proven to kill dermatitis. Blue-stone (copper sulphate) or formalin only deadens the wound in my experience. In addition, I don't think it is a good idea to expose any lame animal to formalin because it is so severe on open wounds. It is a known carcinogenic.

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"But foot bathing isn't going to cure chronically lame cows. Again, my recommendation is to get all your cows routinely trimmed at least once a year, but twice is ideal.

"Farmers will wonder about the viability of this. The cost of getting a cow trimmed can be anything from €6-10 per cow, depending on how much work goes into the average cow. But if you had a 100 cow herd being trimmed twice a year, it's not going to cost you a lot more than €1,000 a year.

"Every serious case of lameness costs €500/cow in loss of milk, infertility and reduced longevity. I've had clients where up to 70pc of their herd was suffering from lameness when I started with them and now they've got no more than 8-10pc lameness.

"The Dutch method is what I practice. First I shorten the claw according to the size of the cow. Then the claws are levelled. Then I model the foot. This involves scooping out the inner side of the claw to take the weight off the pedal bone. This avoids ulcers developing. When this reaches the outside of the foot, it provides a soft track right into the quick.

"When describing it to farmers, I liken it to putting a six-inch pipe upright in wet concrete and filling it with sand and covering over the top with a centimetre of concrete. When that sets and you drive over that surface with a tractor, you won't be long finding where the weak spot is," he said.

Farmers with queries are welcome to contact Francis on 086-3627146 or millfarmhoofcare@

Irish Independent