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No Feet, No Cow

Healthy hooves are critical to comfort, health and production in beef cattle. When cattle cannot move comfortably, they cannot graze adequately to support body condition, growth, pregnancy or lactation. A lame bull will not breed cows. Therefore, it is important to address lameness issues promptly to prevent secondary or chronic issues that can arise from prolonged lameness. Upper limb injuries are not uncommon in beef cattle. These issues may respond to rest and anti-inflammatories. Some issues, such as a “stifled” cow or progressive arthritis, are permanent conditions. In these cases, the quality of life for the animal, as well as their ability to remain a productive member of the herd, should dictate timely marketing of the animal.

Outside of upper limb issues, most lameness issues arise from the feet. These are the main hoof problems in beef cattle:

  1. Foot Rot: Foot rot is an infection of the soft tissue between the hooves. We most commonly see foot rot in hot, wet conditions. However, we also see the problem in drought conditions when the ground may be hard and rutted, damaging the tissue between the toes. Swelling is often observed above the hoof and the damaged tissue is typically wet and smelly. Foot rot usually responds well to treatment with antibiotics, but resistant strains do exist. If left untreated, infection can spread up the limb, making treatment less effective.

  2. Laminitis: Also called “founder,” laminitis is inflammation of the tissue that connects the hoof to the body. It is very painful, affects all four limbs and is slow to heal. Cattle are observed to be “walking on eggshells.” Laminitis is most commonly caused by nutritional issues, such as excessive grain in the ration.

  3. Cracks: Hoof cracks can be vertical or horizontal. These do not cause lameness unless they create instability in the hoof that is painful when the mobile part of the hoof bears weight. Horizontal cracks can arise from stressful events in an animal’s life. Cracks can be pared out or trimmed if they are causing pain.

  4. Corkscrew Claw: Although environment and nutrition can contribute to the formation of a corkscrew claw, it is often a heritable conformation issue. The hoof wall “corkscrews” over the sole of the hoof and predisposes animals to lameness and the development of hoof abscesses. Hoof conformation in young stock and breeding bulls should be an important selection criteria to reduce the incidence of corkscrew and improve longevity in the herd.

  5. Hoof Ulcers/Abscesses: Hoof abscesses are painful and can migrate up the limb into joints if left untreated. Corkscrew claw, laminitis and associated white line disease all predispose animals to hoof abscesses.

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