The Midwest has been troubled with what seems like endless snow this winter. As snow melts, we are left with a muddy mess. Even for other parts of the US who haven’t had heaps of snow, spring will soon be here and often is accompanied by mud. With mud, comes a problem many cattle producers know all too well – foot rot.
Causes and Symptoms
At this time of year, when cattle are seen hobbling in the pasture, it is often due to foot rot. Foot rot can be caused by wet, muddy conditions. Therefore, this time of year is common for the infection.
Gregg Hanzlicek, Kansas State University veterinarian, said foot rot occurs when wet, muddy conditions soften tissue. When the tissue is soft, it is easily split. It also occurs when cattle walk on sharp objects, like frozen ground.
“When we see cattle out, especially after a rain in late fall or wintertime and the ground freezes, the ground becomes very hard and very sharp,” Hanzlicek said. “So when those animals walk around in that frozen muddy area, they can lacerate tissue between their toes.”
The first symptoms of foot rot are swelling and lameness. It most often occurs in rear legs. However, swelling and lameness accompany many ailments in cattle. Therefore, you must pick up the foot and inspect it to determine if it is foot rot.
If foot rot is the cause, there will be a split or cut between the toes and a foul odor.
Ulcers, abscesses, abrasion, fractures and inflammation are also key indicators of foot rot.
The key to treating foot rot is catching it early. This is done by regularly evaluating cattle and their movement. When you notice one limping or struggling to move, inspect the foot.
If you determine it is foot rot, there are numerous, high quality, injectable antibiotics. However, it is important to contact your veterinarian upon determination of foot rot. Though there are numerous antibiotics on the market, not every one works in every geographical location. Thus, you should follow your veterinarian’s recommendation when choosing the right product for your operation.
If foot rot goes untreated, it can cause more serious problems. Untreated, foot rot can spread into the tendons. At this point, antibiotics are ineffective and you will likely end up with a lame animal.
Tips for Prevention
Although quick treatment is key, prevention is the best defense.
There are many mineral mixes and supplements formulated for foot rot. Keep in mind, some supplementation may fall under the Veterinary Feed Directive.
For example, low level feeding of chlortetracycline used to be an adequate prevention method. However, it is deemed illegal under the VFD. Therefore, make sure you have spoken with your vet to ensure you are following guidelines.
Additionally, zinc supplementation can also reduce the incidence of foot rot. Zinc plays an important role in maintaining skin and hoof health.
There are also commercial vaccines which can help control foot rot. You should consult your vet to decide which is best for your operation.
Determining the cause can also be a crucial part of preventing foot rot. Although frozen ground and muddy pastures are left up to Mother Nature, foot rot occurring during hot, dry times can be helped. During these times, direct your attention to loafing areas. This is where cattle like to congregate and is often heavily contaminated with urine and feces.
Marshland Acres Dairy, a custom dairy heifer-raising operation, put hoof health at the top of their priority list. It became quite costly as the operation was spending over $140,000 each year on footbaths.
“In 2016, we spent $118,800 on copper sulfate footbath solution, nearly $8,000 in extra labor, and $16,000 in extra equipment to treat our animals in footbaths,” said Marty Weiss, who operates Marshland Acres Dairy alongside his family.
Weiss said the costs grew quickly and ensuring heifers were getting through the footbath each month was becoming a major chore.
“Herd health issues are definitely a priority in our barns,” Weiss said. “We do not want to send a heifer to one of our clients with a lameness issue.”
This could pose as a potential biosecurity problem. Furthermore, foot health issues early in life could potentially impact the animal’s overall health and lifetime production.
Marshland Acres Dairy worked hard to ensure the facilities were clean and alleyways provided exceptional footing. However, they felt an extra step was necessary in ensuring hoof health. They decided footbaths were necessary to combat any early hoof issues and maintain hoof health.
Not only did this end up being costly for the family, it also disrupted workflow.
A New Solution
Weiss turned to nutrition as a new solution for hoof health. After consulting his dairy herd nutritionist, he found nutrition can have a profound impact on hoof health of cattle.
Research continues to show that with proper nutrition, dairy animals can build and maintain a strong hoof, significantly reducing the incidence of lameness.
Weiss admitted they had known about products with hoof health benefits, but were reluctant to try them at the time. Although, footbaths were costly and messy, they were also effective. Therefore, they decided to stick with what they knew.
After a lot of thought and consideration, Weiss made the decision to add Availa-Plus. The product is a combination of micronutrients including zinc, manganese, copper, and cobalt.
“I had studied the research on herd nutrition and hoof integrity, but I was unsure whether it would have a significant impact,” Weiss said.
Despite some reservations, they found the change had a significant impact on the farm. Today, the farm’s hoof issues are almost nonexistent. Weiss said they cut their hoof-trimming program to maintenance trims on five or six heifers a month. Additionally, they don’t see any issues with hairy warts, foot rot, or digital dermatitis.
“It was a gradual process, but as we continued to evaluate our feeding and nutrition program, we saw fewer hoof issues and better hoof integrity,” he said. “We continued cutting down the number of footbaths. Today, we don’t use them at all.”
“We went from treating hoof issues to simply not seeing those problems in the herd,” Weiss said, noting their overall costs are lower, which is a big benefit to the bottom line. He also notes they are delivering heifers with better foot integrity.
Foot rot is a common problem for cattle producers. However, with quick diagnosis and treatment it can be resolved easily. With this infection, prevention is the key. It is important to find what best fits your operation and then work to optimize your strategy.