Around mating time lameness seems to increase. Most people believe that the reason for this is the extra pressure that is on the hooves when a cow is being bulled by another cow. This goes alongside the theory that hooves get damaged by pushing, twisting and turning. Even many non-agricultural based people assume that to be true. When I explain my job to them they always seem to ask if the problem is because of the long walks. So, it is not surprising that the extra weight on the hooves is seen as the cause of the increased lameness around mating time.

The problem is that, as far as I am aware, mating is a normal, natural phenomenon. If cows go lame because of the extra pressure, why do we not see more lameness with animals in the wild? Is it because we are breeding cows that have weak hooves? If that was true then this would have occurred in the last 40 years or so because lameness was not a big deal back then – even though cows did go through mating periods and they were twisting and turning on concrete. So, if it is the breeding that is to blame, how much longer do you think we will be milking cows for, as hooves seem to deteriorate at a rapid pace?

Another question that is hard to answer in this theory is why do we see most of the problems in the back feet and not so much in the front feet? Front feet carry 60% of the weight of a cow so, if the hooves are genetically weakened, the front feet should suffer more than the back feet. What I am saying is that it is not likely that lameness is caused by external trauma. It just doesn’t make sense and as there is no evidence to back up that theory one must consider that there are alternative explanations. In all my experience the most obvious problem is an unhealthy live tissue in the hoof. If the live tissue (corium) is unhealthy it cannot produce a good quality hoof and likewise, if the corium is healthy it must produce a good quality hoof

So, what makes the corium unhealthy? It is a unbalanced diet and prolonged stress. Stress encompasses a lot. It is not just poor animal handling but also heat stress, lack of resting time, lack of good quality water and so on, and when it comes to mating time you will find that cows are generally spending more time waiting than normal. Milking may take a bit longer and bulling cows go back in the holding pen after being milked. It is already nearly impossible to provide enough resting time for our cows on a pasture-based milking system. Cutting back on resting time in the mating period will only exacerbate the problem and lameness is a result.

Farmers who use heat detection cameras on the platform are at more risk. This technology is not yet accurate enough and it pulls more cows out of the herd than there are bulling cows. This means that a number of cows are going back in the holding yard waiting for nothing. My advice is to be even more diligent around mating time with providing as much paddock time as possible.

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