Good conformation of cattle, according to Dr. Robert Wells, starts at the ground level.
Wells, a consultant with the Samuel F. Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor a cow or bull without correct feet and leg set is like a car with three tires – it “won’t go down the road very far, and a cow or bull that is lame on one leg is not going to produce well for you,” he said. So it’s essential that we have structurally correct legs and feet.”
In looking at the animal’s feet, the producer should make sure both toes are even in shape instead of having one that’s smaller or squared off in the front. The hoof should be proportionate to the size of the body. “That hoof is probably 7-8 square inches in size,” he said. “They’ve got to be able to support a 1,200-1,300 pound cow, or a 2,000 pound bull. There are a lot of pounds per square inch (psi) that are being placed on those hooves so I want to make sure those hooves are not too large, but yet not too small.” Working up the leg, there should be a slight angle to the fetlock and pastern area, and hock should be in line with the shoulder on the front, and the back edge of the rump in back.
A number of injuries and illnesses to the feet and legs can leave that animal unable to perform. Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension regional livestock specialist at the office in Mt. Vernon, told OFN, “We’re seeing more and more cattle that tend to have what we call ‘corkscrew toes.’ Usually, these are rear hoof related problems; where the toe growth is excessive, the side wall of the hoof will cup over and get underneath the sole of the hoof.” Not only is it unsightly, it can result in lameness; if it happens to a bull, he’ll likely be less aggressive during breeding season. Although a corrective trimming is in order, Cole noted a lot of vets don’t have tilt tables that would let them to turn a bull up on his side to help with reshaping the hooves.
Another problem is elongated toes, which is sometimes related to receiving too much feed at a younger age of development “It may be a calf that eats too much feed in a creep feeder at a certain age that founders,” Cole said. Like corkscrew toes, long toes may have a genetic component to it; Cole said other cattle can overeat without suffering foot problems.
Foot rot is commonly found in cattle that have been exposed to muddy lots or have been standing in ponds. It’s caused by Fusobacterium necrophorum and other bacteria, which cause an infection between the toes. Wells said, “The way foot rot starts is by the animal having an abrasion to the sole or heel. That can be caused by walking across a rough gravel area, or by pastures that have a lot of stobs and stems in them. By preventing that and preventing that abrasion, we make it more difficult for the bacteria to be introduced into the body.” He recommends reducing areas in pastures that tend to be wet year round and provide a breeding place for the bacteria.
Fescue foot, though, is another matter. Cole said that is the result of a separation of the hide between the hoof and the dew claw or just above the dew claw, resulting in permanent injury that will require culling of the animal. “The markets will not accept cattle that have serious hoof problems, and are basically immobile and just can’t move,” he said. “We think as far as fescue foot is concerned, certain pastures are going to be more likely to have high levels of the toxin; again, some individual animals seem to have more of a genetic tendency to experience difficulties with fescue.”
There are also injuries like sprains; if it’s a valuable breeding animal, it may be worth the cost to have a veterinarian splint or wrap the leg, or even put a cast on it. It may also be a good idea to pasture the injured animal separately so it does not have to move around to compete for food. Wells said while most deformities at birth probably cannot be corrected economically for the commercial cow/calf operator, the current marketplace means producers should put lack of conformity in perspective. He said, “With the value of a calf coming off the ranch being $1,000 or more, it allows us to have a greater opportunity to take corrective action, because there should be more margin in that animal. But realistically, it depends upon the cost of the treatment, the complexity of the treatment, and the ability of that producer to follow the prescribed rehabilitation of the veterinarian.”


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