These Hooves Were Made for Walking: Cattle Hoof Care

Hoof maintenance is non-negotiable when it comes to caring for hooved animals, no matter the species. Because hooves are the literal foundation for livestock’s movement and productivity, having the perfect hooves is essential to your bottom line. Unfortunately, it is not a one-and-done solution to preventing hoof pain; hoof care must be practiced regularly. Whether you or a trusted professional care for your herd’s hooves, someone knowledgeable needs to check for pain and discomfort at least once a month. As their caregiver, care for and maintain the hoof health of your herd by thoroughly cleaning their feet, feeding them a well-balanced diet, and addressing any signs of wear before they become more damaged. If hoof problems are ignored or improperly treated, your livestock may experience lameness or even death – this is why it is so important to pay close attention to hoof health and take the appropriate action when necessary. 

If you are having any sort of emergency, reach out to us directly! Hooves are a crucial part of animal function, so if there is a problem, it needs to be remedied ASAP. Do not hesitate to reach out with any cattle-related questions, concerns, or emergencies. Our number is (307) 347-2781, and we would be more than happy to help any way we can. 

The Most Common Problems 

There are so many elements to hoof structure and health that can damage your cattle’s overall health that it can be really worrisome to take your eye off them for even one minute. Yes, the problems we discuss today need to be handled immediately, but you will probably notice any problems before they worsen. If you have a cow that is unwilling to stand, put their weight on one specific hoof, or be as active as they once were. You know your herd best so trust your intuition, and if you see something, contact a farrier or veterinarian immediately. Typically, there are two types of damage you should be aware of: infections, and non-infectious problems.

Non-Bacterial Problems

Before hopping right into bacterial infections, which are a major hoof health concern, let’s talk about the problems that will not require any sort of antibiotic as treatment. The two parts of the hoof’s structure allow problems to work their way in and really negatively affect your cow and their production. This structure allows items to be stuck in between the toes, encourages unbalanced weight distribution, and makes it extremely painful when there is an issue. Let’s discuss some of these issues. 

When standing, cattle distribute the majority of their weight to the outer horny portion of their feet. Cows are holding up possibly thousands of pounds, and their feet need to be able to properly sustain that use. When that outer portion of their hoof is not maintained, your cow will become lame. If a cow feels uneven when walking on a specific hoof, you will see them put noticeably less weight on their problem leg. When hooves are unbalanced, the entire hoof structure is open to problems and infections, so proper trimming is mandatory. 

We have established how important hooves are for cattle function, but it is equally important to monitor what your herd is standing in. Whether your cattle are in a stall all day or are able to roam a field, their environment will determine how strong and healthy their hooves are. There are two problems caused by the environment, and that is hard and soft feet. For those of you who maintain tie-stall barns, you will most likely find issues with hard feet, and for those who use free stall systems, you will be on the lookout for soft feet. When a hoof is too hard or soft, the structure is damaged and can lead to bigger issues like foot rot, heel erosions, ulcers, cracks, and so much more. If you maintain your herd’s living space, you will have much fewer problems in the future. 

Now, let’s talk about those scary bacterial infections. 

Bacterial Infections

To begin we will cover hoof erosions as they are a debilitating bacterial infection that is, unfortunately, becoming increasingly common. Due to a cow’s size, weight, hoof structure, and gait, their hooves are prone to developing production-stopping issues. Typically, the bacteria will get inside the claw when the cow stands in moist and dirty conditions for an extended period of time. When the bacteria penetrates the hoof, the hoof will swell and develop abscesses. If these problems are not bad enough, they can quickly develop into laminitis, ultimately halting production. Monitor your herd and watch for any cows that are reluctant to walk, as this could be a strong sign that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. 

Arguably one of the grossest sounding infections is hairy heel warts, also known as digital dermatitis. These warts are highly infectious, and extremely contagious, which are both really great reasons to remedy it as soon as it shows its ugly (hairy) face. Typically, the infection begins due to the amount of bacteria found in some stalls. The slurry of feces, mud, urine, blood, etc., is an excellent breeding ground for the hairy heel warts to get up into your herd’s claws. Hairy heel warts are commonly found on dairy cattle because they have to stand in the same environment for an extended period of time. As we mentioned before, these warts are highly contagious and can stop production of an entire herd. Keep their stalls clean, and you will face much fewer issues. 

When you think of the word “ulcer,” do you think of stomach pain and problems? Stomach ulcers are an awful bacterial infection, but did you know that cattle can also develop ulcers on their hooves? Just as stomach ulcers break down the inner structure of the stomach, heel ulcers will break down the entire hoof structure, preventing production. As soon as the ulcer-causing bacteria infiltrates the hoof, it will immediately begin attacking and destroying the hoof tissue. In order for the bacteria to enter the hoof’s structure, the hoof will already be damaged or unhealthy; this bacteria loves to take advantage of the sick and dying. Heel ulcers are a visible medical issue, so look for a bloody, protruding portion of the hoof. In addition, the skin and tissue around the affected area will be noticeably bruised and tender, so you may first notice that the cow is favoriting a specific leg. As with hairy heel warts, ulcers are commonly found on dairy cattle because they are standing in a breeding ground for bacteria. Again, keep the stalls clean, and your herd will be happier and healthier. 

Hoof rot is another infection that will result in severe lameness if not addressed immediately. Because bovines are two-toed, bacteria has more than enough room to squeeze in and really wreak some havoc, which is where hoof rot comes in. Just as the name implies, the hoof rot bacteria will literally rot away the bovine’s foot, leaving the cow lame and in pain. As if one cow’s infection is not bad enough, hoof rot is very contagious and can easily spread to every member of your herd. The bacteria can only enter the system when the hoof is too weak or damaged to ward it off. Dirty environments can also be a major factor in hoof rot cultivation. 

We’ve discussed quite a few common problems, so let us get into prevention and treatment. 

Regular Hoof Care 

Cattle absolutely need frequent and attentive hoof care from you and anyone working the farm. The most important element of maintaining healthy feet is to regularly trim them! Yes, you can trim them yourself, but by asking a farrier or professional to trim, you can guarantee that your cow’s hooves will be trimmed properly and without pain. Typically, cattle need their feet trimmed twice a year, but that can change depending on environmental and internal factors. If a cow’s hoof is infected, we recommend asking a professional for a specific treatment plan for your circumstances. 

Regular bovine hoof trimming is an essential practice in livestock care. It helps prevent lameness by keeping hooves properly shaped and balanced, as well as encouraging healthy growth of the horn. Consistent trimming also reduces the risk of transmissible diseases being spread between cattle and other animals due to incorrect or overgrown length of their hooves. As such, it is important that livestock farmers ensure their cattle receive regular hoof trimmings, both to maintain the health and safety of their own herd, as well as protecting neighboring stock from potential contamination or injury. We recommend developing a plan with either a professional farrier or your vet to ensure that your herd’s hooves are properly maintained. 

With all this in mind, over-shaving the feet can also lead to problems. Again, the possibility of damage is why we recommend seeing a professional for a personalized plan or going straight to a farrier. The main goal when it comes to hoof care is to make sure your herd does not become lame and they continue to be the producers you need them to be. There is no shame in turning to a professional for help because sometimes you need more specific advice than general information. 

Specific Hoof Treatments

While this does not apply to all the aforementioned problems, there are a couple specialized hoof treatments that go a little beyond regular care procedures. Specifically, we are going to discuss the benefits of vaccines and sprays, but if you need more information, check out this link

We have discussed bacterial and nonbacterial problems at length, so you will be pleased to know that there is a vaccine specifically made for hoof rot. We’ve discussed the urgency of treating hoof rot for no other reason than how contagious it is, and this vaccine will help you keep your entire herd happy and healthy. Whether your herd receives the vaccine before or during a hoof rot infection, their body will control the infection and prevent hoof deformities that will lead to worse problems. Talk to your vet about your herd’s needs and come up with a care plan that will keep your cattle producing efficiently. 

If you would rather go down the topical care route, then antibacterial sprays will be your best friend. Sprays act great as preventative care as well as a treatment option. You cannot possibly keep stalls 100% clean 100% of the time, so sprays are able to ensure that no sneaky bacteria creeps into your herd. These sprays contain a solution that directly attacks and kills bacteria and fungus that could cause laminitis. Sprays should not be the only care measures you are taking, but they are great at picking up some slack. 

Take Steps Todays

If you want a productive herd, bovine care should start from the hooves up. We have discussed the importance of healthy feet, but you do not have to do it alone. Not only is your vet staff an excellent resource, professional farriers have the knowledge and experience to develop the perfect care plan for your herd. By having a team of professionals to back you up, you will be able to properly monitor and maintain the elements of bovine hoof care, including, nutrition, trimming, bacterial infections, nonbacterial problems, hoof balancing, and more.

If you are looking for a team to rely on, Cloud Peak staff makes it extremely easy. We would love to have an in-person conversation if you want to stop by our office during business hours. If you’re too busy, feel free to give us a call at (307) 347-2781, and we would love to discuss any questions or concerns you may have. Let us know what we can do for you and your herd!



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