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New thought~Let's get some input on this!

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Faster horses

Well-known member
Feb 11, 2005
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NE WY at the foot of the Big Horn mountains
While looking at a new customer's registered Angus herd~we were there looking at potential hoofrot and cows with cracked feet~we came up with a theory as to why cattle get cracks in their toes. Let me run our theory by all of you here and see what you might think.

As far as I know, NO ONE really has the answer for why we see cracks in cows toes. Do you agree that it is usually the front feet and USUALLY THE OUTSIDE TOE?

Yeah, that's what we thought too.

So, there was a young cow there that had frozen her front feet badly as a calf. They knew it, they kept the her and gave her to one of the kids. This (now a two-year old) cow was standing right in front of us with bad cracks in both outside toes. I mused, "maybe it is caused from their feet getting frozen." I pointed to the young cow, "Right there is some evidence."

We mulled it over as a distinct possiblity. And agreed it could, maybe, possibly be from that.

Then the kicker: the cow laid down. When she did, what was exposed to the elements? THE OUTSIDE TOE (coronary band and all) OF THE FRONT FOOT. No kidding. And if she laid on the other side, it would be the outside toe on the other foot. Now one back foot was exposed, but it was mostly the bottom of the hind foot, which would break the icy wind from getting to the flesh.

The coronary band was exposed on the front foot. So we thought about this: The calf is born, and it is cold. Maybe or maybe not her ears got frozen. Now it seems to me that you see way more heifer calves with frozen ears than steer calves; I think more heifers survive the cold. Now if the ears are frozen there is buyer resistance, because they say when put on feed, the feet go to heck. So the flesh gets frozen; not enough to notice much as a calf, but enough to break down the integrity of the hoof; and/or interferes with circulation in that area of the foot.

Okay, now we keep these heifer calves. We don't see anything wrong with their feet until they get a little older and are heavy~from mature weight or with calf~and then a crack will show up in maybe one toe. Could this be a manifestation of what happened to her foot as a baby?

One other thing we considered. When these cows with bad cracks get up after laying down, they will shake or act like that foot is numb. Like possibly there is some poor circulation in that foot.

There you have it. What do you think? Is it a possiblity?
Or do you think cracks in toes are hereditary; or from feed, possibly?
Remember, out here cattle don't get much, if any grain.

Appreciate your comments and input! :idea:
I would be the last one to second guess your "cow sense" faster horses I believe it to be a combination of all the above,and the terrain they are run on,I run some cattle in sandy country and experience little if any foot problems,run some in this hill country rock and its not uncommon for some of these old girls to show up with foot problems including cracks in there toes...................good luck
Sounds reasonable to me.

Maybe thats why I feel we should cull for any and every problem. Bad eyes, feet, prolapses, late calvers or whatever. I know it's easier said than done, but I've never seen bad feet in deer or a prolapse or any of these problems.

Those who don't agree don't have to do it. Those who do, will.
Haymaker, that is an interesting observation. Only thing is, this guy runs in sandy ground.

Jinglebob, I very much agree with you. BUT, if this is a whale of a cow, who froze her foot as a calf; that would not be genetic. That is what we are trying to figure out here. Are these cracks genetic or is it environmental?

We (my husband and myself) have had the thought for a few years now there is a problem with Angus cattle in that they seem to have foot problems. Well, I checked out a herd of cattle this spring with foot problems. They were red crossbreds~so go figure.

In the particular set of cows that prompted this post; the feet on those cattle (other than the few problem ones) look to be very healthy. I mean have a good shine to them, good structure; no long toes. It is perplexing to me.

I would really like to be able to figure this out AND also why some cattle shed better than others. That's something else I wish I knew the reason why.

Now, back to the feet. For those of you who calve later in the spring, do you see cracks in your cattle's feet? I think the guy we are working with is going to go back to the weather station here and get the temperatures for the past several years and compare the temp with birthdate of the cattle. Only problem is...and I just thought of it...we wouldn't know wind speed and that could be the most important factor in this case we are trying to make.!!

Thanks for your posts, Haymaker and BMR.

I hope more people respond to my request.
What about the calves who were born on the same day or night and didn't freeze their feet? Better , smarter mama who got them to better protection or took better care..

How can they be a whale of a cow and have bad feet? There are too many problems we can't see to make exceptions for what we can see.

Check out Becktons. At one time they culled all animals who had bad feet and any who were related. As I understand it.

As forthe shedding of hair and poor hair coats, I've been told that those have a poorer imune system. Cull them.

Save all female calves and cull down to 10 or 20 % over the next few years. You should always have too many and then it doesn't bother you to sell something! :shock: :lol:
An interesting theory, Faster Horses. Frost bite very likely could lead to problems with good circulation and might have an effect. As for black cattle having more foot problems, I don't believe it. In my experience Herfords had more foot problems. Maybe I am just remembering the Hereford bulls. I think overfeeding was a big cause of that, seems there may have been a breakdown of the cellsor something. Maybe frost bite does something like that too.

Last spring (2004), I have several cows that lost a part of their tail, just a few inches and the switch, this happened during calving time when they were home where we have more protection, the winter and spring were mild, so I don't think it was the weather. These cows were calves in 2001, We had a mild spring that year also, but in 2002 we had a cold stormy March, a lot of calves came in that fall with short ears and tails.

I appreciate those of you who take the time to really observe things and try to find the reason.
We actually did a study on our herd with the vet college-ran every cow in the chute and checked for cracks-measured them etc. I'mpretty sure it's not from freezing there feet-cattle that get a touch of frost quite often get a misshapen claw not a crack. The mineral companies really made hay out of sandcracks they all had solutions and potions but the herds that tried them never really found a solution. One theory was that in our neck of the woods the grass in early spring is so high in protein that it was causing mild gras founder and weakening the hoof wall-this would crack out a latter date.
That sounds reasonable, NR. We have tested grass here in June, it runs 18-20% protein; but it is also up to 80% moisture. So, that puts a question in my mind on the protein theory.

It is a fact that ZINC contributes to healthy feet. We had a neighbor back in 1994 that was experiencing foot rot of epidemic porportions. He was doctoring with LA-200 and bolus and putting our organic iodine. Nothing was working. We took a look and the problem was the cows had one place to drink and that was at a tank. The tank was mounted on concrete and the gravel around the tank had sluffed away. As a result, there was a sharp corner right there. When one cow would go up to drink, another cow would come along and hit her and her foot would slide down off the corner of the concrete foundation. We thought this might be contributing to the problem. We added pure zinc to his mineral and he got through that outbreak of footrot. He changed to our mineral right at that time; didn't fix the foundation around the tank and has had maybe 5 cases of hoof rot in all these years. But that was HOOF ROT, not cracked or long toes. So I know that a mineral high in zinc helps the integrity of the foot. We have a stock product called FESCUE BALANCER that is 1% zinc. (We don't have fescue in Montana, but I have been told cattle on fescue pasture are prone to foot rot~is that true?)

NR, you called the cracks Sandcracks. Is there any special reason for that? I'm not questioning you per sei; I just am trying to learn something here.

The particular young cow that we watched as noted in my first post on this subject, was known to have frozen her front feet. Her feet were normal, not misshappen except for the large, deep cracks.

I certainly appreciate all of you who took the time to post. Sure would be great to get this figured out.

And yes, we bought a Hereford bull whose feet went bad in a year. They were flat as pancakes and had lots of splits. Kinda like a horse with shelley feet.

Clarence, interesting that you had young cows lose ears and tails at an older age. We had some yearlings this year that froze the ends of their ears off. They were all full eared heifers. Right now some of them look as if they were earmarked at birth, a straight cut across the end of their ear. We had never noticed that ever happening before, had you?
Those long cracks running up the vertical axis of the foot are called sandcracksa here and unfortunately you will find them in cattle who've never been exposed to freezing temps. Fertilized Meadow Brome up here can have very high protein in the spring and like I said causes a mild grass founder. Cattle with frozen fewet definately are more likely to get a misshapen foot than just a crack-I ranch in country where people calve-not me-in lots of -40 weather so have observed lots of frozen feet in my day. We've had older cattle freeze ears and tails in real tough storms. We had -90 windchill here once for about 5 days straight if they get caught out it can be tough on them.
OKAY, THANKS! I did learn something.

I wondered if they were called Sandcracks becuause they could be caused from a gravel; again like a horse gets a gravel that comes out the coronary band of the foot. Of course it can make a horse very lame until it comes out.

But you are also saying cattle that are exposed to freezing temps tend to get sandcracks more than cattle that are calved in milder weather. Am I correct? That is one reason why the breeder was going to look up the temperatures when these cattle were born. I wish we knew wind chill, because that could be the real culprit here.

I have no doubt that more than one thing causes this problem. Founder is one I have considered; but cattle around here don't get fed much, if any grain. We moved here in Feb. of 1993 and in the fall of 1994 we had to trim a lot of cows feet. It was like a founder and we thought perhaps it was from grazing standing hay barley. When I checked on that though, the concensus was that they wouldn't eat enough of that to cause a founder problem. Now I wonder if it was from some drastic cold that occured during the winter, or from the high protein grass in the spring. Very well could be.
FH, The Fescue Balancer is supposed to control ergot poisoning in cattle that eat infected fescue. (Usually the old "kentucky 31" variety)
Ergot poisoning restricts the blood flow to the extremities and helps to contribute to "Fescue Foot", a rotting of the hoof/foot, starts at the high part of the hoof at the hairline. I have seen cows without a hoof, just a bloody knob in the dirt. Cattle will also lose the ends of their tails in chronic cases. They are VERY intolerable to heat. Sound familiar?
Fescue is not the only grass that accumulates the ergot. I am sure there are some types up that way also. It is a fungus in the stem.

I have read that a zinc and selenium defiency lessens the ability of the hoof to "hydrate", thus causing it to be brittle and crack.

I have noticed cattle that have a nice shiny, almost [GREASY] coat most times have less cracks in the hoof. Not always but most.

Those cracks sure ain't caused by freezing down here!

Good thread!
A couple years ago we had some ergot in the crested wheat. Now lets fix the cracks in my horses feet, need to tie them in a man made mud puddle for half a day before I can even think about trimming feet. WA Hoo for you Mike.
rancher said:
A couple years ago we had some ergot in the crested wheat. Now lets fix the cracks in my horses feet, need to tie them in a man made mud puddle for half a day before I can even think about trimming feet. WA Hoo for you Mike.

Rancher, Ergot causes aborts in horses too. Watch it with preg mares!
Faster horses said:
Of course, rancher. A good horse mineral will help the cracks in your horses feet.


a link about ergots:http://www.ag.auburn.edu/enpl//services/fescue.htm
Faster horses said:
Of course, rancher. A good horse mineral will help the cracks in your horses feet.


Really only have problems on the dry years and they chip, not crack. What is the difference between cow mineral and horse mineral? I have mine on good mineral.
Some interesting comments on this thread. Ergot is quite common on rye, have heard that some have had problems feeding rye to hogs because of it. I have never seen it on Crested Wheatgrass but have seen a little on Western Wheatgrass. We planted Tetra-pectus rye here a few times, seemed it had more ergot than ordinary rye.

We may have isolated areas here with excess selenium, at least that has been blamed for some of the foot problems. There are a few plants that are selenium accumulaters, I don't know of any that grows right here in my area unless it is deer vetch. These plants are posionous. Did have one case of photo sensitivity one time. Thought deer vetch might have been the culprit. Brought the cow into the shade and feed her hay, took about a month but she got alright.

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