I have come across the comment a few times that people are confused about the advice they are getting regarding lameness. There are contradicting messages going around from professionals about the causes of lameness, especially when it comes to tracks. It has come to my attention that people hear me saying that I don’t believe that tracks cause lameness, and I thought it was important to clarify my position.
I know that tracks are an important factor to consider in minimising lameness and I don’t believe that stones have much to do with lameness – they are only an issue when they get stuck between the claws. To say that stones haven’t got much to do with lameness is quite different from saying that tracks haven’t got much to do with lameness. It is not the stones on tracks that are the culprit but more the stress factors that are caused by tracks with issues like slippery surfaces and extended time spent on tracks, and therefore out of the paddock.
Physical force is certainly an issue for cows, but only if the hooves are unhealthy. If the hooves are unhealthy it is not the stones that cause the problem but a constantly overloaded outer claw. So, the key to minimising lameness is to get to the root of the problem and make sure the hooves are kept as healthy as possible.
Look at it this way: Imagine you own a tractor and the engine gets regularly overheated. Your way to solve the problem is by ensuring that you don’t use the tractor for long periods at a time, you also only half fill your feed-out wagon to make lighter work for your tractor. You have done this now for years and because of it you have managed to not damage the engine and your tractor is still going as strong as the day you bought it. If you think about this scenario, what is your thought process? Would you just accept the fact that overheating is normal, and we just need to make life easy for your tractor even though the tractor has plenty of horse-power or would you expect that there was something wrong with the tractor? If the cooling fluid is low and you fill that up to the required level, then your tractor can do the work it is made for easily and you can use the tractor all day long.
In the same sort of way cows hooves are made for the job they are doing. I have not been shown any reason to believe that the hooves are too weak for the job, even when we farm our cows in an unnatural environment. Hooves adapt to changes in their environment and you can see that clearly when hooves grow thick, the result of which is the height difference between inner and outer claw.
So, if cows go lame then I need to look at what is going wrong for the cow. Why can’t she handle the environment? There will be things in it that are causing problems for the cow like diet and stress. So, for me, stones are not a consideration but tracks certainly are when considering causes of lameness.