After reading and searching the Internet, I found some interesting and practical information to help dairy managers and nutritionists evaluate ration management based on hoof health and appearance.
Founder. I often hear dairy managers speak of ‘founder’ as an affliction of dairy cattle. I was taught in Animal Science 403: Animal Nutrition (a very long time ago) that founder is only a condition of horses.
It is a metabolic condition caused by excessive energy intake (too much grain or too high quality forage for the horse’s energy needs) that causes the hoof to grow extremely fast, become terribly deformed and be extremely painful.
We may not correctly call it founder in cattle, but there is certainly a similar nutritional condition that affects hoof health and growth in cattle.
This condition, associated with ‘hot’ rations that are very high in energy or too low in effective fiber, definitely contributes to lameness problems in cattle.
Stress levels, turning beef cows out on pasture, feeding unfermented corn silage to dairy cows or failure to analyze major forages in rations can also result in hoof grooves.
More subtle imbalances can also cause hoof problems, which can be detected visually.
Grooves. Look for horizontal grooves – commonly seen in the hooves of beef and dairy cattle – in the hard tissue of the hoof. Grooves are an area of weakness that can cause the claw tissue to bend, crack or break.
The more grooves seen in a herd, the more severe the nutritional problem is.
Sometimes grooves are so severe, they penetrate all the way through the hoof wall forming ‘fissures.’
Deep grooves and fissures are so common in some herds, managers may think they are a normal condition.
However, if the condition is present in a large percentage of the animals, it should be investigated.
When did it start? It is possible to calculate when there was a major change or problem in the nutritional balance of the cattle.
Claw tissue grows away from the coronary band (the tissue that produces the claw) at a rate of about 4 millimeters per month.
Measure the distance (in millimeters) of the groove or band from the coronary band and divide by 4. This will tell you approximately how many months ago the stress occurred.
Grooves can become so deep that the toe actually breaks off. If many cows in a herd have broken toes, it is probable that the nutritional imbalance has existed for a long time.
When examining your cows’ toes, it is important to look for horizontal grooves, but it is also important to look for a difference in appearance of the toe material, delineated by a horizontal band through the hoof.
Inspection and production. The best time to inspect hooves for grooves and other problems is at milking time.
Train milkers to look for foot problems such as hoof grooves, abscesses, heel worts (interdigital detmatitis), foot rot, sole ulcers, toe ulcers, heel erosion and other causes of lameness.
Any time there is nutritional stress enough to cause hoof grooves, you lose production. And, you may have reduced the productive life of the cows in the herd.
The earlier you address these problems, the sooner you will get cows back to their productive potential.
Lameness is one of the leading causes of lost productivity in dairy herds. When feet are sore, cows don’t eat, show signs of heat, or drink as often as normal.
These changes in cow behavior simply add to the problem by leading to rumen acidosis, one of the major causes of lameness.
You should try to link the grooves back to ration changes or other changes to determine the cause. Then, you can take steps to avoid these mistakes in the future.
Additional checklist. When you see hoof grooves in the herd, here are some additional things to keep in mind:
-Test the water supply for iron, nitrates and sulfates.
-Evaluate the copper levels in forages and pastures.
-Don’t feed silage until it is completely fermented. Cows fed biotin are less likely to develop deep grooves or sand cracks.
-Test for stray voltage.
-Test forages (purchased and home-grown) for acid detergent fiber. Variations of more than 5 percent acid detergent fiber in a major ration ingredient must be avoided.
-Mix old and new forage for at least 10 days to make a more gradual transition. Add other ration ingredients to keep fiber levels consistent.
-Avoid use of tower silos and bags if possible to avoid changes in quality and acid detergent fiber content between layers. Bunker silos tend to produce less variation in forage quality from day to day.
More help. Work with your nutritionist and veterinarian to identify hoof and related ration problems and to find solutions.
One good source of information on hoof health is www.cowdoc.net.
Kent Hoblet, Extension veterinarian and chair of the Ohio State University Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, is a specialist in hoof health problems and mastitis prevention.
William Epperson, Ohio State University Extension veterinarian, is also available to work with herd managers.
Contact these people through your local veterinarian.
(The author is an agricultural extension educator in Columbiana County. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)