The Basics of Hoof-Care for Large Animals

Close attention to the health of your animals’ hooves can make a significant difference to the productivity and performance of your farm. For example, cows with poor hoof health are less likely to walk, will have less desire to move to a feed bunk and consequently gain less weight or produce less milk. Treatment for animals in discomfort or lame animals can be a significant expense. In extreme cases, poor hoof-care can lead to lameness and early culling of farm animals. Some hoof problems are unavoidable, but a strong hoof-care system can reduce the regularity of incidents.

Animals such as cows, sheep, goats, pigs and horses all need to have their hooves cleaned regularly. A hoof pick is required for adequate cleaning. It is used in a toe-to-heel direction to remove material deposited in the sole of the hoof, under shoes on horses, and in the clefts of the frog. During cleaning, you should also inspect hooves for any foreign material that may have penetrated the hoof.

Hoof trimming is required to prevent hooves from growing excessively long, resulting in curled up toes and discomfort for the animal when walking. It is important to establish a regular hoof-trimming schedule that meets the needs of your animals. The regularity of trimming will depend on several factors, including the type of animal, the nature of the surface that they are kept on, and seasonal factors. In general, hooves should be trimmed between once every four weeks and once every six months. The purpose of trimming is to restore the natural shape of hooves, in which the bones sit within the hoof at approximately 50° to the ground. In a well-trimmed hoof, the weight-bearing surfaces should be the outer edge of the hoof wall, the outer part of the sole of the foot and part of the heel.

Hoof Wounds
Regular trimming and cleaning will help limit problems such as foot rot and laminitis. Environmental damage such as rock bruising and nail or wire punctures are not serious issues. However, all hoof wounds should be treated with an antibacterial and antifungal agent regardless of their origin. Such treatments are commonly available from livestock stores.

Proper nutrition is vital to ensuring that hoof growth is healthy and maintained at an optimal rate. Ensuring that your animals’ diet contains sufficient nutrients such as zinc and biotin is necessary for the growth of strong hooves. This is an important base for a successful hoof-care programme.

The most common hoof-care problem is simply a lack of attention from livestock owners. Creating a schedule of regular maintenance, combined with a healthy nutritional regime, will limit the amount of hoof problems that your animals experience. Although it may be an effort to implement such a programme, it will pay dividends in the end as your animals become healthier and more productive, eventually leading to a more profitable farm.

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