The Feet We Stand On

Ignored until there’s a problem, hoof health is a complicated yet fascinating aspect of livestock production. As production under a roof or in dry lots increases, we learn more about what works and doesn’t, not only in hoof health but every aspect of management. Most of the current research and attention to hoof health has been focused on dairy cattle as they are intensely managed, yet the same concepts apply to beef cattle, sheep and goats, swine, etc.

I was fortunate to attend a hoof health workshop that opened my eyes to all the factors that could be an issue for hoof health. Nutritionists focus on the micro minerals (zinc, copper, manganese, biotin, iodine) as crucial factors in improving hoof health. And while those remain vitally important, they are not the only management factors that can create issues.

Why do we care about hoof health? Without hooves to stand on, we don’t have a healthy, productive animal. The economic impact of lameness in beef cattle is unknown. An industry guess would be at least 2-16% of the herd is lame in the feedlot and at least 31% in the breeding herd. But with inconsistent reporting, how are we to know the actual loss?

There is quite a wide range of lameness risk factors, and while they are listed here, I’m going to focus on those that really popped out at me. This is a topic that could cover quite a few pages.
1. The animal themselves
2. Nutritional status
3. Systemic Disease
4. Management Environmental

Management Surprises:
Improper Footbaths – this is a management and environmental issue.
In many cases, we are using footbaths that are too strong/too acidic and are causing chemical burns on the animals, which means we are introducing MORE bacteria to the hoof.

Bunk Management
While we all realize the importance of managing bunks regarding feed intake and keeping our wastage to a minimum, other issues are involved. Overcrowding pens and not keeping feed pushed up have been shown to create foot issues. The animals are pushing so hard against bunklines or headgates to get to feed that the angle at which their feet are being held can create problems.

Environmental Surprises:
Flooring surface and condition

Claws require a flat plane with adequate traction. We want patterns that do not make them put pressure on one specific claw or a specific part of the foot instead of the entire foot.

-Dairyland Initiative is an excellent resource for correct groove dimensions in concrete.

I was fascinated by the fact that many patterns we thought did a good job are actually causing hoof problems.

Heat Stress
Cows do not like hot weather. Once the temperature rises above 77 degrees, which is their upper critical temperature (i.e., the top of their thermoneutral zone or happy place”), things start to fall apart. Two months past a heat event, hoof issues are visible.

While this nutritionist should have probably focused on the feed aspects of hoof health, I hope this has been a thought-provoking look at how some other management issues may be causing foot problems.