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What You Need to Know About Hoof Health


What You Need to Know About Hoof Health

Have you ever heard that you should never skimp on the quality of your shoes since your feet are vital to your wellbeing and your living? Well, the same is true for your livestock. Some may even say that their feet are twice as important since they have four feet instead of two. Not only that, horses may wear shoes, but your other livestock does not. 

Your horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, or goats rely on healthy hooves to live comfortably without pain, stay mobile, and meet their full potential. In many ways, your livestock’s feet are the key to your success. This means taking an active role in keeping their hooves healthy and staying vigilant when it comes to warning signs is necessary. Not only does regular hoof maintenance and care save your animals from pain, but it also saves you money when it comes to veterinary care and increases your farm’s revenue. 

As the weather heats up and rainfall increases your livestock’s feet are more vulnerable now than other times of the year. If hoof care is at the forefront of your mind, here are the basics you need to know to keep your animals’ toes in tip-top shape.

Horse Owners: Beware of White Line Disease

White line disease (also called stall rot, hollow foot, and seedy toe) occurs when the outer layer of a horse’s hoof wall separates from the sole. This separation leaves your horse’s hoof vulnerable to fungi and bacterial infections. This can cause a severe infection. White line disease can cause serious and painful damage, including bruises, cracks, and abscesses. If left undiagnosed and untreated, it can even cause further deterioration of the hoof, leaving your horse lame.

What Can You Do for White Line Disease?

The best way to prevent white line disease in your horses is to provide them with daily hoof care. Pick and clean their hooves every day. Removing packed mud and manure from your horses’ hooves reduces bacteria that can wind up in cracks and crevices in your horses’ feet. When you eliminate the bacteria, you decrease the likelihood of infection and diseases like white line disease.

Regular care by a farrier and a well-balanced diet are both keys to preventing your horses from suffering from white line disease. 

A proper diet allows your horse’s body to naturally build a denser hoof wall that can stand up better to white line disease or prevent it from occurring at all.

Watching for signs of white line disease like cracks in the hoof and separations can also prevent progression and allow for early treatment, which can lessen the effects of the disease and reduce recovery time. Regular hoof maintenance by a farrier allows the opportunity for a professional to analyze and assess your horse’s hoof health to diagnose and identify problems earlier.

Thrush in Horses and Hoof Rot in Cattle and Other Livestock

Any animal with hooves, cloven or not, are susceptible to hoof rot (also called thrush in horses). Hoof rot causes lameness and reduced weight gains in livestock while lowering a farm’s revenue. It can be highly contagious between animals and lead to widespread problems among the herd.

Hoof rot is caused by bacteria. When your horses, cattle, or other animals stand in contaminated soil or on contaminated ground, they are at risk for this bacterial infection of the feet. The bacteria that cause hoof rot, often anaerobic bacteria, target cracks in the skin or open wounds in the feet, causing a bacterial infection. Standing in wet conditions can make hooves more susceptible to bacterial infection since the wet conditions soften skin. Once infected, hoof rot causes intense pain and lameness. Frequently, hoof rot causes bruising, cracking, abscesses.

Once these bacteria are present in a pasture or pen, they can be very difficult to control and eliminate. It can leave goats, swine, sheep, horses, and cows lame and significantly reduce their mobility. Hoof rot also requires antibiotics for treatment, which can add stress to your already busy season and a cost that can cut into your profitability.

What are the signs of hoof rot?


  • Soreness and pain

  • Fever at the site and elevated body temperature

  • A foul odor of the hoof or hooves

  • Swelling around the hoof

  • Dead or damaged tissue

  • Reduce appetite

  • Lameness 

  • Separation of skin or nail

  • Redness

How to Prevent Hoof Rot 

Preventing the conditions that lead to hoof rot can save your animals the pain of infection, prevent lameness, and save you the cost of treating the infection. 

A quick checklist for preventing incidences of hoof rot in your livestock:


  • Check animals’ hooves for infection or defects before purchasing

  • Keep feet properly cared for and nails trimmed

  • Look for signs of hoof rot and call for veterinary assistance when symptoms are present

  • Keep new animals separated from the rest for 30 days

  • Check stalls and pens often and keep them dry and clean

  • Provide clean, dry bedding often

  • Ensure proper drainage in stalls and pastures

  • Keep livestock away from sitting in water or mud

  • Provide clean stall by managing manure properly

  • Use hoof baths often and place them in opportune locations


Staying on top of regular hoof maintenance can make a world of difference for your livestock’s hoof health. Daily hoof picking and hoof cleaning reduces packed mud and manure. This prevents bacteria from lingering in cracks and crevices, which significantly reduces the risk of infection and disease.

Hoof baths and hoof trimming also allow you to stay ahead of bacteria and infections. Hoof baths loosen and wash away mud and manure to prevent packing. Add disinfectant or copper sulfate to help clean and strengthen the hoof. Place your hoof baths at barn entrances or between fields to encourage livestock to walk through them. Remember, the more often you can clean your livestock’s hooves, the better.

Switching your livestock from wet to dry conditions can make them more prone to hoof rot, as well. The significant change can leave feet cracked or chapped, allowing for bacteria to attack the flesh.

Hairy Heel Warts in Cattle

Hairy heel warts, also called “strawberry foot disease” or “digital dermatitis,” is one of the most common causes of lameness in dairy cattle. This hoof disease affects cows of varying ages and breeds, but it has become increasingly common in dairy farms across the U.S. in the past twenty years. This disease is caused by spirochete bacteria found in soil and is extremely contagious. It’s also very painful for infected cows. Hairy heel warts also reduce your cattle’s milk production by 20% to 50%.

Hairy heel warts occur where the hoof wall meets the foot or between the toe cleft. It appears as a sore or hole in the flesh, and they bleed profusely once the flesh opens. These wounds grow in size and transform into lesions with roots or hairlike spikes, similar to those of a wart.

Preventing Hairy Heel Warts 

The first step in preventing hairy heel warts is improving your cattle’s nutrition. A diet that targets stronger hoof horns and healthier tissue surrounding the hooves will strengthen the hooves from the inside-out, creating less breakage and cracks while quickening healing. Adding four grams of zinc methionine per head daily to your lactation dairy premix can reduce the number of hairy heel wart cases in your cattle.

You also want to use hoof baths for your cattle and pick their hooves daily. Adding a disinfectant or copper-zinc sulfate to the hoof bath can prevent mud and manure packing which can decrease the odds of infection.

Taking  Care of Your Livestock’s Feet is a Worthy Feat

If you have questions regarding your livestock’s hooves or feet, we are here to help. We can also provide your horses or livestock with the hoof care they need to stay healthy. Please give us a call or make an appointment online to ensure your livestock stay head, tails, and toes ahead of any illness. 


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