“Copper and/or zinc deficiency (and other feed deficiencies) can be a contributing factor in sandcracks,” says Paul Greenough, DVM and professor emeritus in Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine. Most cows in badly affected herds have horizontal “hardship” grooves as a result of some kind of nutritional stress.

Iron and sulfur inhibit uptake of certain trace elements – including copper and zinc – in the animal. “A problem with hoof cracks may be specific to any given area depending upon climate, soil and multiple other factors, including how the stockman manages his farm and cattle,” he explains.

Mike Mehren, a livestock nutritionist in Hermiston, OR, says hoof cracks can suddenly occur on a ranch, leaving one wondering if something changed in the feed or management. The important thing nutritionally is to ensure a balanced diet that includes all the crucial trace minerals that play a role in hoof health. Chelated minerals are more readily utilized in the body.

Selenium is important to hoof health and strength, but overdose can be toxic.

“With selenium toxicity, cattle can actually lose their feet and tail switch. You might not think excess selenium would be possible in the Pacific Northwest, which is a selenium-deficient area. However, people tend to think that if a little is good, a lot is better.

Suppose you injected selenium, fed a trace-mineral salt with selenium and fed a protein supplement with selenium. Each source might supply 3 mg/day, the maximum legal amount of selenium. But, the combination would provide 9 mg, which might not cause death, but could conceivably, in some instances, cause hoof cracking,” Mehren says.

Vitamins A, D and biotin (one of the B vitamins) play a role in hoof growth, and fatty acids help maintain a waterproof barrier on the outside of the hoof. Many nutrients are important to hoof health, so there isn’t one “magic” ingredient that will solve hoof problems.

“Having a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals seems to bring about a long-term correction of problem in most herds,” Mehren says. “We recommend staying on a year-round mineral supplement, not just during winter. Many ranchers do a good job with minerals in fall and winter, but figure the cattle are okay on green grass and plain salt. If you’re having foot problems, it’s best to continue the mineral program because animals don’t store minerals.”


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