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Cattle Hoof Care – Preventing Cow Lameness

Lameness is a common disease in cattle, which has a negative impact on animals’ welfare. It is a symptom that can result from many different conditions, including sole ulcers, laminitis, slurry heels, foot-rot, digital dermatitis, and others. Your animals can have constant pain and suffer a great deal. Reducing lameness among your cattle through proper hoof care is a crucial step to keep them happy and healthy. But it needs careful planning and commitment from you as a rancher. 

Create a hoof care plan to prevent lameness in cattle
Create a hoof care plan to prevent lameness in cattle

Hoof Care and Cow Lameness

Hoof health is essential for the overall health of the animal. When a cow develops a problem with a foot or leg, which would cause movement problems or limp, such a condition is called lameness. That includes any abnormality that impacts the way the animal walks. Lameness is a difficult problem to tackle. It is caused by conditions of legs and feet, environmental factors, or diseases. But most of the cases of cows becoming lame are related to poor hoof care. Continued lameness often leads to the culling of the animal. Apart from that, this condition also leads to weight loss, lower milk production, and lower fertility. 

Check cattle often for early detection. Some animals might develop lesions, which could be changing depending on the season. If a cow develops lesions, those can be caused by infection or not be infectious. But even non-infectious lesions can become infected if they are continuously exposed to bacteria and dirt. Then you would need to give the animal antibiotics to treat the infection. 

Factors Impacting Lameness

Lameness does not only happen because of poor hoof care, although this factor plays a crucial role in it. But there are also other things to consider when it comes to the environment, housing, and animal factors. It is shown that cows are more at risk of becoming lame in the winter because of housing and wet weather, which is perfect for the breeding of bacteria. Another thing to pay attention to is housing. Cows housed in straw yards and at pasture tend to develop fewer lesions compared to the animals housed in concrete yards or on slats. Cattle on pasture or straw yards tend to spend more time lying down, and there is also less exposure to various bacteria. 

Cattle spend less time walking around when on pastures or in straw yards
Cattle spend less time walking around when on pastures or in straw yards

Besides outside factors, there are also characteristics of the animal itself, which could have an impact on developments of lameness. It can depend on genes and breed of cows, their weight, feet pigmentation, and age. You, as a rancher, also should pay special attention to cows shortly after calving. They spend more time standing, which might cause foot lesions and lead to lameness. Apart from that, as cows grow older, their risk of developing different foot diseases increases. This might translate into a higher risk for lameness.

How to Prevent Lameness with Proper Hoof Care

You need to have good hoof care practices to prevent lameness in cows. Before giving them any treatment, you need to identify the animals that have become lame recently. If you catch the condition early enough, it is easy to treat and also prevent the infection from coming back. Many factors could lead to the lameness of the animal, and Dairy Cows have a higher incidence, but Beef Cows can also be affected. But with improper hoof care, cows end up walking with improper balance. When one or more of the hooves have to take the majority of the weight, they become unstable and more sensitive. That is why proper care is essential. This study discusses in detail some additional tips for the prevention and treatment of lameness in cattle.  

Proper trimming is a way of taking care of the animals’ hooves
Proper trimming is a way of taking care of the animals’ hooves

What to Do When the Animal is Lame

If you notice that an animal develops an abnormal gait, the chances are that one of its feet is lame. You will need to check the lame foot to find out the reason for the disease. With an early diagnosis, you can treat the lame cows and take care of the overall hoof health of the herd. Being able to identify the reason behind the lame foot is important because this way, you can choose the right treatment option for the animal. If you do not diagnose the problem correctly or postpone the treatment, this can cause chronic issues.  

Some of the common issues that cause lameness include foot rot, a bacterial disease, hairy wart, a skin infection, laminitis, or abscesses of soles. If you identify one of these issues in the animal, know that they have quite a high recovery rate. These diseases respond well to treatment with antibiotics, especially when discovered early. Finding these diseases later poses a risk for the condition to become chronic or for the animal to develop a secondary infection. This study has presented lameness treatment protocols that could help give some background on hoof care. Work with your vet to design and implement lameness treatment protocols that work best for your ranch.