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Beware of foot rot in wet weather

Foot rot is caused by anaerobic bacteria. They cannot penetrate intact healthy hoof tissue. However, when cattle continually stand in water and mud, their hooves soften, just like your fingernails after a long bath. Softened hooves are less impervious to punctures and abrasions, thus giving the foot rot bacterium a route into the hoof. Therefore, we see more foot rot in herds exposed to long periods of wet weather. 

Foot rot is first characterized by swelling between the toes. Eventually the skin splits open to reveal necrotic, foul-smelling tissue. The affected foot will be warm to the touch. Cattle often run a temperature and appear lethargic. The initial reddening of the skin is sometimes known as foot scald. If left untreated, the infection may progress up the foot into the joints, tendons and bone.

Contagious foot rot is mainly spread by infected animals. The bacterium travels from the infected animal to the soil to non-infected animals. These bacteria can survive in the soil from 1 to 10 months and even longer within the hoof tissues. Problems are usually introduced into a “clean” herd by purchase of an infected animal, mixing “clean” animals with infected animals or by using a facility (such as sale barn) after infected animals. Humans can also spread the disease on their boots or vehicles.

Management practices that help reduce hoof damage can help to reduce the incidence of foot rot in your herd. Maintain good drainage in and around watering and feeding areas. You may also think about placing concrete pads in these areas to reduce the amount of mud. Do not utilize sharp gravel in travel lanes. Proper mineral nutrition, especially zinc and copper, can also help to improve hoof integrity and strength and reduce the incidences of foot rot.

Zinc is a critical nutrient involved maintaining hoof tissues, including, but not limited to, stimulating growth, production of keratin (the part that makes the hoof hard), improved wound healing and improved cellular integrity. Zinc-deficient cattle exhibit increased claw and hoof disorders as well as skin disorders and poor wound healing. Improved zinc nutrition has been proven to improve hoof health in deficient animals.

Copper is required for healthy claw horn tissue as well as antioxidant activity. Copper deficiency decreases the structural strength of hoof tissue. Copper deficiency also results in decreased immunity, infertility and decreased growth.  

In summary, cases of foot rot increase during prolonged wet weather. There are many management practices that you can employ to reduce foot rot on your farm. Included among these is proper supplementation of zinc and copper. Many cattle show deficiency symptoms including: discolored hair coats, slow to shed out of winter coats, depressed immunity, decreased conception rates, increased days open, and hoof problems. If your cattle experience any of these symptoms, you should consider use of one of the CRYSTALYX® Breed-Up Supplements to help enhance copper and zinc nutrition. Visit www.crystalyx.com to view product labels and learn more.