February 7, 2018
Hoof Cracks in Beef Cattle
Research based information for this article was compiled by Rachel Endecott (Former MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist). The complete article is available at http://www.msuextension.org/beefcattle/cowsensechronicle.html.
In general, foot cracks are classified as either horizontal (transverse fissures) or vertical (sand cracks). The mildest form of a horizontal foot crack is known as a hardship groove, which is thought to be associated with disease, stress, or nutritional abnormality. A Canadian study of 6 different beef cattle herds found that the prevalence of hardship grooves varied from 29-100%. In these herds, the grooves were associated with a change from winter feed to lush spring grass or in response to weather conditions resulting in a flush of grass. The researchers termed this “pasture shock” and suggested that a laminitis-like mechanism may have been activated. Their recommendations to minimize pasture shock included avoiding turnout into very lush grass as the first pasture in the spring, to leave some residue on a pasture in fall and graze it first at spring turnout, and to avoid legume pasture as the first to be grazed in the spring. In addition, these recommendations may also help prevent grass tetany.
Hardship groove depth may vary from a very shallow depression (1 mm deep) to penetration of the entire wall. The latter case is termed a fissure. When a fissure reaches the midpoint of the hoof wall, it acts as a hinge and the wall may bend. As a fissure approaches the lower third of the toe, it tends to partially break away and is then referred to as a thimble, which is an extremely painful condition. Vertical foot cracks are often referred to as sand cracks. So what causes sand cracks? Canadian studies suggest sheer force of weight influences prevalence. However, we don’t have a thorough understanding of the environmental, nutritional, and genetic factors that interact to result in sand cracks. Some
researchers speculate that variation in the size and shape of the claw (toe) plays a role in the strength of the claw. As a result, animals with less claw volume at a similar weight and age may not be able to withstand as much stress on the claw. Trace minerals and vitamins play an important role in hoof health. Proper supplementation with copper and zinc if needed can help ensure hoof integrity. If there are antagonists to copper and zinc present in the environment (sulfates, molybdenum, iron), they may have a negative impact on the availability of these minerals. Vitamins A, E, and the B vitamin biotin are all important for hoof health. Vitamins A and E play a role in tissue growth and repair and immune function. Biotin is associated with formation of the hoof horn and is important to claw hardness. Finally, genetics can play a role in hoof quality. Different sire lines and cow families are known to have a higher prevalence of cracked feet than others. Research based information for this article was compiled by Rachel Endecott (MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist). For further information on results from Alberta Research studies, the complete article is available at http://www.msuextension.org/beefcattle/cowsensechronicle.html.
Montana State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Montana Counties Cooperating. MSU Extension is an equal opportunity/affirmative action provider of educational outreach.