Written by Michelle Woodman
Dairy Technical Consultant

Ask any hoof trimmer when they see the most lame cows on a dairy and they will likely tell you it’s always the fall.  Hoof lesions tend to show up in feet a month or two after the stress event that causes the lesion, and with more standing in the summer months along with other stressors, fall tends to be a busy time of year for trimmers.  There are four key areas to focus on to prevent the dreaded fall hoof problems.

  1. Ventilation – When talking about heat stress, we’d be missing the elephant in the room if we didn’t talk about ventilation.  Wind speeds of 3.5-5 mph are optimal for evaporation at the cow level.  Measuring wind speed in the free stall beds and over the feed lane with a wind meter ensures fans are spaced the proper distance apart and at the right angle.  This is also very important when using sprinkler soaking systems.  Sprinklers are very effective in cooling cows with the proper soaking and wind speed.  If the droplet size is too small and the water doesn’t reach the cow’s skin, it acts as an insulator rather than a cooling mechanism.  This is also the case if using sprinklers without fans.  Evaporation is necessary for cooling cows, soaking only will not get the job done.
  2. Fly Control/Shade – Cows are herding animals by nature and find comfort in a tight group.  Fly pressure, heat and sunshine shadows are all contributors to cows bunching in free stall barns in the summertime.  When cows are bunching at one end of a pen their standing time is longer than normal which can cause sole ulcers.  Making sure stalls, in 3-row and 6-row barns especially, have shade to promote stall usage is very important.  Ventilation plays a factor in this area as well.  Fly control measures need to be taken to decrease fly pressure as much as possible.  There are many ways to help control flies from feed additives, pour-ons, sprays and general barn cleanliness. 
  3. Floor Management – When humidity is high and sprinklers are being used concrete and rubber become a lot more slippery.  Increased frequency of scraping may be necessary to reduce the ‘film’ build-up on high traffic surfaces.  Keeping holding areas clean is also very important to decrease slipping and possible lesions.  Proper grooving and planning rough corroded areas will also help prevent slipping.
  4. Proper Nutrition – Working with your nutritionist to proactively change diets with forage changes while managing inventories is very important to promote intake in hot summer months.  Targeting higher levels of Zinc from Zinpro Availa minerals promotes healthy hoof growth to combat higher wear from increased standing times. Skin integrity is improved with higher levels of Zinc to help with evaporative cooling.  Zinc also helps improve gut health through heat stress, keeping the villi in the rumen healthy and functioning. 

Focusing on these four key areas during times of heat stress will keep your cows’ feet happy and healthy all the way until fall.