Most cattle in feedlots and pastures are exposed to many potential causes of injury. If cattle can successfully avoid getting hurt from feedbunks, fences, corral panels, waterers and other equipment, there are always other herdmates to present a potential hazard (e.g., bulls fighting with each other). The previous iGrow article, Lameness in Cattle: Causes Associated with Infection looked at a number of infection-related causes of lameness. This article will examine some of the more physical ways cattle can become lame, starting with the foot and working our way up.
A not-uncommon cause of acute lameness in adult as well as younger cattle, especially in pasture situations, is that of penetrating foreign objects into the sole of the foot. One typically thinks of nails in this regard, but many other potential objects can do the job as well. Regardless of whether or not the objects stay embedded in the sole of the hoof, the penetration carries bacteria from the outside environment deeper into the blood-rich inner layers of the hoof tissue, presenting the right conditions for infection to ensue.
Another injury that can inflict a great deal of damage to the hoof is that of a “degloving” injury. This is where a calf or cow gets a toe wedged into a small space, for example between a feedbunk and adjacent fencepost, and quickly and forcefully jerks the foot out, damaging or even removing part or all of the hoof wall. As one can imagine, this is a very painful situation that will require intervention in the form of treatment, or in severe cases, euthanasia.
While only occasionally associated with injury, the most commonly encountered hoof defects in cows and bulls are sandcracks. These manifest themselves as vertical cracks that can extend from the coronary band (where the skin meets the upper part of the hoof) to the toe. There are many theories about why these cracks form, including injury, and persistently dry or wet environmental conditions. They are more common in mature, heavier animals. Fortunately, most of these cracks are not associated with lameness.
The horizontal hoof crack should be differentiated from the vertical sandcrack. Horizontal cracks are often associated with a stress, or a disruption in the animal’s health at the time that hoof tissue was developing. Acute illness with fever, or a short period of severe overnutrition or undernutrition are possible causes. As is the case with sandcracks, most horizontal cracks will not result in lameness either.