Healthy hooves are the foundation for healthy animals. Cattle with good hoof health perform better and are less labour-intensive.
Amino acids, fatty acids, and minerals (particularly calcium, trace elements like zinc, and vitamins like biotin) are all essential for keratinization. A weak horn may be more prone to cracks and infections and can be caused by dietary deficiencies and imbalances in minerals such as zinc, copper, selenium, manganese, and vitamins, particularly A, D, and biotin. The hardness of the hoof horn is favourably influenced by zinc, sulfur, and a few trace elements.
Supplementing with key nutrients can improve and maintain hoof health. Hooves are composed mainly of proteins (keratin) and fats, therefore the animals should receive sufficient levels of crude protein and fatty acids.
Calcium activates the enzyme needed to form keratin and is required to create the cross-links between keratin fibers.
Copper is vital for the formation of the crosslinks in the keratin that keeps the hoof strong and hard. It is also a critical component of superoxide dismutase. Zinc is very important for hoof growth and maintenance and essential for keratin formation. It also influences calcium utilization in the body and plays a very important role in the formation of superoxide dismutase, an enzyme involved in antioxidant activity that prevents the fats and oils in the hoof from oxidizing and breaking the protective seal, which can cause the hoof to become dry and brittle.
Manganese is important for the health of the hoof cell membrane. Iodine has been shown to prevent hoof rot. Selenium plays an important role in the hoof, also protecting the fats from oxidation.
Vitamins A and D play a role in hoof growth and help maintain a waterproof barrier on the outside of the hoof. Biotin has been shown to cure sole ulcers quicker, reduce sole haemorrhages and reduce the incidence of interdigital dermatitis.
Minimize the exposure to manure and urine to help prevent the erosion of heels. Feeding areas and alleys should always be kept clean and dry to reduce the time that cows spend standing in the slurry. Poorly drained areas where water pools should be fixed and barns should be well-ventilated to remove moisture, heat and odours as well as replenish oxygen supply. Foot baths are used to prevent or treat interdigital skin and infectious foot diseases.
Routine hoof trimming is important for the prevention and reduction of lameness. This allows a hoof trimmer to inspect hooves for any issues and helps rebalance hooves and prevent excessive wear. If any issues are discovered during the inspection, they can be treated right away. Trimming twice a year is appropriate, once at dry-off and again around 100 days in milk. The presence of infectious diseases can increase the need for hoof trimming which may help alleviate some pain associated with these diseases.
Cow comfort is important for a productive and profitable dairy. Cows who are comfortable will lie down and get off their feet. Provide cows with adequate bedding to reduce overcrowding and minimize stress in the barn.
Soft resilient flooring with enough friction will reduce the over-growth of claws, but also prevent over-wear. Using good quality rubber flooring can have a positive impact on cow mobility, hooves, and leg health. Rubber can increase traction and reduce the risk of slips, trips, and falls by providing grip and stability. They are designed to be easy to clean and disinfect due to it being non-porous and not retaining moisture, and they are sound absorbing which reduces noise in the barn.