Using the Healthy Feet Programme to reduce antibiotic use in lame cows

Reducing antibiotic use is a top priority for the livestock industry, so understanding when to use them is an important part of the Healthy Feet Programme.

Lameness in cows: the Healthy Feet Programme

Not all lameness cases require antibiotics

Infectious lesions

Antibiotics may be entirely appropriate for diseases such as digital dermatitis since they kill the infection-causing bacteria and allow for the lesion to heal

Non-infectious lesions

Treatment with antibiotics is not appropriate for conditions such as sole ulcers and white line disease. This is because the lesions are not caused by infectious bacteria and are instead caused by physical factors such as weight bearing or hoof horn trauma

Claw horn lesions

There is no evidence that antibiotics improve their cure rates, especially true for sole ulcers. The appropriate treatment for these lesions is a therapeutic trim, plus a block on the opposite claw to relieve weight-bearing on the affected claw, and a course of NSAID.

Complex lesions

Antibiotics are sometimes appropriate for lesions caused by physical factors, which have become infected. Some of these mixed lesions will need to be treated by a vet because of their complexity and severity. We have guidance on when to call a vet in these cases, but always remember your vet is there to support you.

Refer to our guidance on infectious, non-infectious and mixed lesions to help identify what is causing the cow to be lame. Once you have properly identified the cause, it is much easier to appropriately treat the lesion.

Always ensure all medicines used are licensed products. Antibiotics for footbaths are not licensed and are inappropriate.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that have pain-killing and anti-inflammatory properties.

The best time to use NSAIDs is early on when the lameness is less severe, and before irreversible changes have occurred due to inflammation.

Cows recover better when treated with NSAIDs, since the inflammation associated with claw horn lesions (sole bruising, sole ulcers and white line disease) can cause long-standing damage inside the hoof, such as the growth spurs of bone. These can delay healing and make the cow prone to new bouts of lameness in the future.

How can the Healthy Feet Programme help?

The aim of the Healthy Feet Programme (HFP) is to help you reduce lameness and improve your business performance.

The programme is a structured approach to help dairy farmers diagnose, develop an action plan and learn the skills for long-term lameness control.

Here’s what some farmers said about the HFP after one year:

  • “We’ve gone from treatment to prevention. Basically, we now use our time far better”
  • “The best thing about the HFP is I now feel more in control of lameness than I ever thought possible”
  • “Simple: improved welfare. If my cows are happy, I’m happy!”
  • “The financial benefits have been huge. Reducing lameness has brought me an extra 1.8 ppl margin, easily”

Find out more about the Healthy Feet Programme.

How to achieve success:

  1. Walking the walk – work out what’s going on
    1. Enrol on the HFP
    2. Work with a mobility mentor
    3. Diagnose the lameness problems
    4. Assess what contributes to lame cows on your farm
    5. Develop your skills
  2. Decision time – farm staff develop a plan
    1. Agree on actions that can be done on your farm
    2. Decide the first steps
    3. Do it!
  3. Check your progress – keep records
    1. Mobility score cows regularly
    2. Review and update actions

Useful links

Lameness in dairy cows

Lesions of cows' feet