Footrot occurs when bacteria makes its way into the soft flesh in between cattle’s feet, making cattle in hot, rugged and moist climates more susceptible. Photo by John Maas.
Footrot occurs when bacteria makes its way into the soft flesh in between cattle’s feet, making cattle in hot, rugged and moist climates more susceptible. Photo by John Maas.

Summertime: Bulls are turned out with spring calving females on pasture for breeding, stocker cattle enjoy their last stop on grass before transitioning into the feedyard, and bred fall cows spend their days grazing without a care in the world – it’s almost like paradise.

But as the longer days heat up to the dog days of summer, things can turn south if cattle producers don’t keep a firm hand on cattle health.

“Complications with cattle health can be enough to take the fun out of summer,” says John Maas, former veterinarian with the University of California at Davis Cooperative Extension, and chairman of the Beef Quality Assurance Advisory Board.

Footrot interdigital phlegmon

Footrot is a multi-factorial condition that can turn a sound animal lame in a short 24-hour time window and can be detected through tenderness and swelling of the foot. The infection occurs when the soft, sensitive tissue between the toes of cattle’s feet is irritated and infected by Fusobacterium necrophorum or Bacteroides melaninogenicus bacteria that make a living in the absence of oxygen. Since F. necrophorum is found present in feces and healthy rumens, cattle are literally at risk of contracting footrot with every step.

A simple rule of thumb: Anything that causes irritation to your own hands would irritate the sensitive portion of cattle’s feet.

“Stubble in fields, sticks, little stones – anything like that gives an entry way for the bacteria,” says Maas. “Excessive moisture and heat can cause their feet to crack and chap, making cattle in those environments more susceptible.”

And while bacteria have the ability to proliferate damaging toxins throughout the irritated area, if detected early, common antibiotics such as Tetracycline and Penicillin can clear up the infection quickly. Neglect the problem for too long and it only takes 5 to 10 days to turn urgent.

“If bacteria gets into deeper tissues, like joints, tendon sheaths and the bone itself, all bets on treatment resulting into a full recovery are off,” he says. “Once it gets into these tissues, it becomes a very serious issue that may require surgery or even humane euthanasia.”

While footrot isn’t 100 percent preventable, there are steps producers can take to minimize its occurrence and severity. According to Maas, this can be done with a supplement program.

“Iodine in a salt-mineral mix, or some other supplement mix are really helpful to not only prevent cases, but minimize the severity if they do occur,” he says. “Trace minerals such as copper and selenium are highly beneficial for immune response, priority determined by what region of the country you’re in. Copper is more so in the Midwest and selenium in the West, Great Lake region and Southeast.”

For feedyard producers, zinc methionine has been found as a highly effective prevention tool.

Since irritation is more likely to occur in high heat and moisture areas, Maas suggests areas around watering tanks are well drained and cleared of small pebbles that can cause problems. He also suggests producers hold off on turning cattle out on fields with stubble when temperatures are hot since the heat and moisture combination is a recipe for bacteria infestation.

See the full article and more in the digital edition of the June-July issue of Drovers/CattleNetwork.