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Sole Ulcers: Don’t Blame the Ration

Maureen Hanson

April 20, 2022

A high incidence of sole ulcers in a dairy herd is probably not the fault of the ration, according to Gerard Cramer, DVM, DVSc, associate professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

“We’ve been blaming the ration for a long time, and we still have sole ulcers,” Cramer told the audience at a hands-on workshop at the 2022 Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin annual business conference.

Cramer, whose decades-long career focus has been dairy lameness and foot health, said ration supplements of zinc and copper do improve hoof durability. But he said laminitis caused by subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA) is not a major issue of concern to him.

That’s in part because he said most dairies today do a better job than ever of managing SARA, and also partly because the connection between SARA and lameness in dairy cattle may never have been as strong as it once was purported.

“It’s a theory that came from the horse world, but cows only have half the laminae tissue as horses, so they are much less susceptible to acidosis-related lameness,” he stated. “I believe only a very small percentage of lameness on dairies is linked to acidosis.”

Rather, Cramer sees plenty of other lameness causes. Along with sole ulcers, common contributors are white line lesions, digital dermatitis, foot rot, and toe ulcers. His assessment of the most common contributors: standing time, flooring problems, and failure to control digital dermatitis.

Surprisingly, sand bedding can also contribute to a higher incidence of lameness, especially if it is utilized too early in the heifer pen or is too coarse and leads to thin soles. Too much standing time, particularly on concrete, also detracts from hoof health. Cramer stresses that 100% of cows in a herd should have at least 12 hours of lying time daily. “Not just 80% , but 100%,” he declared.

As a comprehensive approach to preventing lameness, Cramer emphasizes four key fundamentals:

  1. Low infection pressure from digital dermatitis-causing bacteria.

  2. Good horn quality and shape, maintained with mineral supplementation and regular hoof trimming.

  3. Early detection and treatment of lame cows.

  4. Low stress and minimal force on cows’ feet.

He advocated for considering a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug for treating early lameness cases to manage inflammation and reduce pain. Relieving pain not only helps the animal feel better, but also prevents future hoof health lesions through reducing inflammation.



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