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No hoof - No bull

We’ve all heard the saying “no hoof – no horse”.  This saying is popular because a lame horse is of little use to its owner.  The same applies to our bulls. Regardless of his bloodlines, exceptional musculature or superior EPDs, if he is lame, he isn’t going to breed your cows to pass on those magnificent genes, so he’s useless to you.

Common causes of lameness in pastured cattle are cuts, punctures and foot rot. Cattle grazing endophyte-infected fescue pastures that have developed fescue toxicity experience a loss of blood circulation to the feet causing lameness as well.

How Does Wet Weather Increase Lameness?

While parts of the west and southwest are experiencing severe drought, the mid-west has more water than it can handle. All of that water is conducive to the development of lameness.

Cattle that continually stand in water and mud experience softened hooves-- just like your fingernails after a long bath. Softened hooves are less impervious to punctures and abrasions and thus injuries are more likely to occur. Open wounds provide an avenue to infection by the foot rot bacterium.

Wet weather also promotes rapid pasture growth and can inhibit haying and clipping activities. For cattle grazing infected fescue pastures, this can be detrimental. The ergot fungus responsible for fescue toxicity is more concentrated in seedheads than in other parts of the plant. When cattle are forced to consume more seedheads (either on pasture or in over-mature hay) they will intake more of the ergot toxins and are more likely to show symptoms of fescue toxicity.


Luckily, most lameness can be prevented with good management, or at least made less severe. Below are some tips:

  • Maintain good drainage in and around watering and feeding areas
  • Do not utilize sharp gravel in areas where cattle have to walk
  • Do not purchase animals from herds that show signs of lameness
  • Treat animals at the first sign of lameness
  • Cull cattle that display chronic lameness
  • Keep fescue pastures clipped to reduce the number of seedheads and to maintain pasture nutritional quality
  • Have fescue pastures tested to determine the extent of endophyte infection
    • Allows you to make better choices regarding nutrition and management
  • Dilute fescue pastures by inter-seeding with legumes
  • Provide year-round, free choice access to a high quality mineral supplement that contains adequate zinc and copper

The Role of Mineral Nutrition

Proper mineral nutrition, especially zinc and copper, can help to improve hoof health as well as counteract the negative effects of the ergot toxin responsible for fescue toxicity.

Zinc is a critical nutrient involved maintaining hoof tissues, including, but not limited to, 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 shown to improve hoof health in deficient animals.

Copper is required for strong keratin bonds (hoof hardness) 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.  

Research has shown that the fescue endophyte not only decreases the total amount of copper present in the plant, but also, negatively affects bioavailability of copper for the animal. This makes sense when you consider that typical symptoms for fescue toxicosis closely resemble those for copper deficiency. These symptoms include hoof problems; rough, discolored hair coats; winter coats that are slow to shed out; decreased conception rates; increased days open and depressed immunity. For all of these reasons, lowered copper status plays a large part in the fescue toxicosis syndrome. Proper supplementation with a high copper supplement can help alleviate some of the fescue toxicity symptoms.


Natural deficiencies and antagonists in soils make proper supplementation of zinc and copper extremely important for all cattle, but especially to those grazing fescue pastures. Cattle producers who have observed lameness in their cattle or wish to improve overall hoof health should consider use of one of the CRYSTALYX® Breed Up® line of supplements.  All CRYSTALYX® Breed Up®  supplements deliver 200% of NRC recommended levels of copper and zinc, including highly available, organic forms of copper, zinc, manganese and cobalt.

In summary, lameness increases during prolonged wet weather. There are many management practices that you can employ to reduce the incidences of lameness in bulls as well as the rest of the herd. 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, consider CRYSTALYX® Breed-Up® Supplements (some available with Bio-Mos®).  Visit www.crystalyx.com to learn more about these products. Also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to learn more about how CRYSTALYX® can work for you.