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The Moo News

Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                           August 2002   

Hi Folks,

            A condition I was called out for a lot during the month was lame cows. Lameness of course happens any season, but it is more prevalent with all the cows going out to pasture currently. Basically two common types of lameness occur in cattle: environmentally induced or infectious. Abscesses are the typical environmental type – a cow steps on a sharp object (gravel, stone, wire, nail, etc.) and the sole gets punctured. Also possible is a cow or bull that has a growth between its toes and it becomes irritated, ulcerated and infected. In either case the cow becomes lame over the course of a few days. Observant farmers will watch their cows walking and observe any abnormal gait. They will also identify the leg and examine it closely (lifting it if need be). Simply spraying the hoof with copper sulphate or tetracycline is not always a wise decision. A festering abscess will work its way towards a joint space, toe bone or anklebone with time. As with most things, time is of the essence especially when dealing with large mammals of economic importance. It’s fine to hope that the animal will self-cure, but if the animal is not showing signs of improvement, there is absolutely no use in waiting any longer. It should also be pointed out that your first strike at correcting a hoof abscess might be your one best chance. If not opened up correctly, an abscess will quickly drive itself deeper into other structures.


So, how to work on a hoof? Get a come-along and throw the cable around a beam above the cow or hang it from a beam hook. Make sure the cow is “short chained” or haltered to something firm. Take 4-6 loops of baling twine and place around hock (just above it), to which the come-along will attach. If a front leg, use a cow collar underneath the ‘armpit’ of the cow and attach the come-along to it. Jack a back leg up so the hock is slightly below the pin bones. Jack a front leg up to about 8-12” off the ground then bend the ankle joint and grasp hoof. Most hoof problems are on the outside toe of a rear leg. If on the front leg, the inner toe is usually involved. Once lifted, hose off or wash in a bucket of warm water (body temp). Careful, the hoof will be tender. Then use a hoof knife and start scratching the entire sole surface. If you see a moist black line, pare it out and follow it to wherever it stops, as the abscess is usually located at the end of the black line. (Try to be aware of what the normal black pigmentation of the hoof is contrasted to the moistness of an abscess tract.)  Also, if there any thickened or raised areas on the sole, investigate these with your hoof knife or nippers. A thickened area is an area not worn down normally and usually reveals the abscess area right away if pared away. Do not hesitate to make a hoof bleed a bit, as blood will bring fresh nutrients to an otherwise dead spot. Abscesses on cattle need to be opened liberally – at least the size of a half dollar. Those of you who’ve seen me open up an abscess have seen me pare away sometimes half the sole or more to really open it up. Remember your first shot at an abscess has to be your best, as things will wall off rapidly if the job is only half done. Once open, apply 3% hydrogen peroxide and allow it to bubble away. Then spray some tincture of iodine on the area and wrap with icthammol on cotton and cover with a wrap of your choice. You can re-wrap it in about 5 days, but if done right, it won’t be necessary. Allow the cow outside, just not in the creek or deep muck (where the puncture most likely happened in the first place).


Infectious hoof problems typically are hairy heel wart/strawberry heel or foot rot. Some herds experience this problem more than others. The cause is probably part environment and part nutritional. It is already well known that sole ulcers in cows are usually due to a hot ration (high amounts of readily fermentable carbohydrates in the rumen) that does not provide enough effective fiber. Ulcers, once they appear, will come and go during the life of the cow depending on stresses. In rumen acidosis, it is very likely that toxins that normally don’t escape the rumen will end up escaping when the protective rumen papillae along the walls are injured due to low rumen pH. With toxins entering general circulation, the delicate circulatory area of the lower limbs may be injured and normal perfusion of the area be diminished. This could set the stage for a weakened hoof-hairline junction. Combining this internal problem with lots of environmental bacteria found in wet muck can result in the commonly seen erosions at the hairline – usually at the bulb of the heel but actually it can occur at any area where hoof meets hairline.


What to do? Well, first make sure that your cows are getting enough effective fiber and have healthy rumens. Then also walk your cows through a deep box of powdered hydrated lime, as it is a good antiseptic. The copper sulfate solutions become too sloppy and will eventually poison your soil through high copper accumulations when you dump them out. Spraying the heel erosion directly can be effective if done early, before a membrane scab covers over the area actively infected. Manually removing that scab before medicating is absolutely necessary for the medication to penetrate to where it is needed. Usually, tetracycline is effective with one direct treatment to the hoof or sprayed on at milking times for 3 days in a row. For my organic farmers, I use an herbal powder called Hoofgao (can be ordered from www.cowmastitis.com).  Both seem to work equally as well. With foot rot, the area between the toes becomes irritated, sore, infected and swollen (sometimes swelling extending up above the hoof). Lift hoof, wash and apply tetracycline powder and change the wrap 5 days later (a clump of dead tissue will fall away and the area underneath should be cleansed and treated again). On organic farms, I cleanse with hydrogen peroxide and soak cotton with tincture of iodine and wrap. I repeat this every other day for a few times until improvement is seen. Notice that I haven’t mentioned using systemic antibiotics for lameness. That’s because correct and timely intervention reduces their need drastically. I will on occasion suggest their use, usually only if there is severe swelling above the hoof into the fetlock joint. For organic farms, an alternative would be a bulb of garlic twice daily for 5 days, high doses of vitamin C, and homeopathic hepar sulph 10X (if abscess) or pyrogenium 200C (if foot rot). Homeopathic gun powder 30C can help with significant swellings into the fetlock.      

The third type of lameness- that of a sore hip, shoulder, knee, elbow or knuckling of the hoof due to hard calving – usually responds well to my electro-acupuncture treatment. Normally it takes only a couple of treatments a few days apart for normal use of limb to resume. Fortunately, that kind of lameness is relatively rare in cattle.

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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