Performance losses and treatment expenses related to foot rot are some of the biggest health-related costs for stocker operators, says Kansas StateUniversity beef specialist Dale Blasi, PhD.

And like most health problems, prevention is easier on the pocketbook than treatment. Research at K-State’s Beef Stocker Unit indicates cost of treatment as high as $100 per foot rot episode when accounting for antibiotic, labor and lost performance, Blasi says.

Blasi describes foot rot as a sub-acute or acute necrotic infectious disease caused by the entry of bacteria, primarily Fusobacterium necrophorum, through damage to the soft tissues between the toes and sole. Foot rot is not the only cause of lameness in cattle, but swelling above the hoof line and dew claws and the presence of a foul odor is almost a sure sign of foot rot.

Depending on conditions, the incidence of foot rot in pasture cattle can run as high as 25 percent. Delayed treatment can result in lasting damage, and Blasi notes that by the time clinical signs appear, animal performance could be reduced significantly.

To address treatment costs, K-State researchers have conducted trials using pasture mineral supplements over the past two years with Aureomycin (chlortetracycline) and ionophores (Bovatec and Rumensin). They compared health and productivity using two free-choice mineral supplements that contained either Bovatec and Aureomycin or Rumensin.

There were no differences between the two treatments with respect to cattle gain, but cattle consuming the   mineral containing Bovatec and Aureomycin had significantly less foot rot, with an incidence of   4.7 percent compared with 16.9 percent for the cattle fed Rumensin alone. In another study, Blasi says, calves receiving Aureomycin alone compared to Aureomycin and Bovatec gained 7 pounds less per calf in a 90-day grazing period.

Researchers also have experimented with supplementing zinc, which is known to be important for maintaining skin and hoof integrity. In a K-State field trial over three grazing seasons, the addition of 100 pounds of Zinpro 100J (50 percent zinc methionine) per ton of free-choice mineral improved steer daily gain almost 0.10 pounds and reduced foot rot 55 percent.   Blasi says about 20 percent of the live weight gain advantage was attributed to the control of foot rot alone, while the remainder from resolving a zinc deficiency.

Blasi notes a commercial vaccine, Fusogard, which is approved for use in cattle as a control for foot rot and liver abscesses, offers another control tool. Researchers conducted a large-scale field trial at two locations in southwest Kansas to compare the administration of a single 2cc dose at the initiation of the grazing season to untreated control calves. Blasi notes that the manufacturer recommends two doses for optimal foot rot control.

The 876 head of heifers and steer calves used in the study averaged about 600 pounds and were grazed on native grass for 75 to 148 days.    Performance was similar between treatments, and while the incidence of foot rot was low among both groups, the difference approached statistical significance. Vaccinated cattle had a foot rot incidence of 0.91 percent, while control cattle had a 2.3 percent incidence.

Blasi concludes that stocker operators should anticipate that foot rot can cause problems and take steps to prevent its occurrence.