While pregnancy testing a group of cows for a client recently, he mentioned that his 2½-year-old herd bull was lame. On closer inspection, I saw the bull had a corkscrew claw on the lame rear foot. The owner was quite disappointed to learn it was possibly a genetic defect and that the bull should go to slaughter. I also recommended against keeping the daughters for replacements.
While most of the recent industry press on genetics has focused on Arthrogryposis Multiplex, Contractural Arachnodactyly and other genetic defects, some other
defects that may take longer to
appear are also troubling.
I was at a bull sale a few years ago and the late Roy Wallace walked into a pen of bulls with me. I saw numerous yearling bulls with elongated front claws, with some even deviated medially and crossing. I pointed to one and said, “Am I being too picky?” to which Wallace replied, “Nope, we’re headed for a disaster.” That reinforced my thought that this was truly a problem.
I spoke recently with a breeder who suggested pulling the registration papers on a cow or bull that needed its second foot trim. Other defects that affect health include poor disposition, teat and udder
issues, and overall poor structural soundness. In the commercial world, the last concern is almost a non-
issue, while the other two can lead to health and longevity issues.
It’s a step in the right direction that some breeds record data on disposition and teat/udder conformation. Producers need to look at this data when making breeding decisions.
What should you do if you suspect a genetic problem? First, make a diagnosis. Corkscrew claw can be confused with founder, which isn’t a genetic defect.
In corkscrew claw, the wall (side) of the hoof bends down and under the claw. When you lift up the foot, the wall is now extended to the bottom and the animal is actually walking on the hoof wall. This leads to lameness as the weight distribution on the foot is incorrect.
Meanwhile, in founder, the toes grow long, but don’t curl under.
The next step is to report it to the breeder. A reputable breeder will likely “make it right” with you. Age will figure prominently in the terms. And, if the breeder truly wants the breed to improve, he’ll report the problem to the breed association and supply the pedigrees of the sire and dam.
Early in my practice career, I called the head of a major breed association to politely inform him of a concern that was known to happen in this breed. His response was that the breed had a handle on it and it wasn’t a concern anymore. My client with 40 cows had seven cases that winter;
obviously, he and I felt differently.
Bull buyers need to ask some hard questions about traits like disposition, teat/udder conformation, and foot issues. Ask about guarantees on bulls if they develop problems or sire calves with concerns. Meanwhile, breeders need to be quicker to cull animals with genetic issues that will impact productivity, longevity and profitability.
When my client with the bull with corkscrew claw called the breeder, the breeder said it was the first case he’d had. The breeder didn’t know that another of our clients had called a year earlier with a bull that also had corkscrew claw. He gave the same response then. I guess he won’t be selling any bulls to our
clients from now on.
W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical associate professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.