When one considers lameness problems in large animals, horses are often the first that come to mind. However, cattle, specifically those on dairy farms, are also at risk for the malady that can result in poor milk production and significant economic loss for farm owners.
In the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, Dr. Ondrej Becvar, a clinical instructor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, is working to provide proper hoof care to cattle locally and around the world.
Lameness can occur in cattle for a variety of reasons, according to Becvar, including claw disease, digital dermatitis, and foot rot. While a variety of preventive measures can be taken to help lessen the chances of these problems, including management of nutrition, housing, and the local environment, one of the mainstays is claw, or hoof, trimming. Becvar provides this service to local clients both in the hospital and on the farm through the use of a portable, manual chute and a selection of trimming tools.
"Trimming feet and working on lame cows is physically demanding work that requires knowledge of anatomy, a sense of geometry, mechanics, and a little bit of art," said Becvar. "It is also mentally challenging to figure out why the cows are suffering from lameness and to then design a prevention plan to reduce the risk of the problem occurring again the future."
Becvar's interest and commitment to this world-wide problem led him to help establish the Claw Trimmers Association in 1999 in the Czech Republic, where he is originally from. The association's mission is to help hoof trimmers and dairy farmers learn more about hoof care and lameness prevention. It provides several seminars, conferences, and training courses each year. Becvar has remained active in the association even after moving to Blacksburg to join Virginia Tech in 2003. He is also now a member of the North American Claw Trimmers Association and is working to build a link between the organization and the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.
"The North American Claw Trimmers Association is now working on establishing a certification program for professional claw trimmers like what is already established in several European countries," explains Becvar. "My opinion is veterinarians, veterinary colleges, and veterinary organizations should be actively involved in this certification process since it will also add to the education and opportunities for our veterinary students interested in food animal medicine."
Becvar also hopes to continue establishing a cattle hoof-health program at the college, which will not only provide service to local clients and patients and train the college's veterinary students, but will also have a strong research component that will benefit the whole industry and attract individuals interested in this field to the college.
"Dr. Becvar is one of the leading experts in this field. In only a few short years he has established a local, national, and international reputation in this critically important field of animal health. His dedication to his craft and to sharing his knowledge with others is obvious," said Dr. David Hodgson, head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. "Our college and hospital, and I am sure our clients, are very pleased to have his services."
- Read the related Virginia Tech Spoglight on Impact: "Food Animal Field Services veterinarians provide on-site care."