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Managing Hoof Health Leading Into Winter Conditions

By Eliza Burton, TRAC Ruminant Productivity Consultant

As the weather conditions start to change and the soils become more waterlogged, it is important to consider the management of your animal’s hoof health on farm. Poor hoof health in ruminants can have a significant impact on productivity and profitability of the business. During wet conditions, there is an increased risk of lameness due to the excessive amount of moisture moving through the edge of the hoof wall. Sheep, beef, and dairy animals with lameness issues are a lot less likely to move and graze freely, therefore reducing the amount of pasture they will eat, dropping their dry matter intake, which in turn decreases the animal’s ability to gain weight, produce milk and negatively affects their reproductive performance. Early adoption of appropriate management and supplementation techniques is essential in reducing the risk of poor hoof health and achieving high production during the winter months.

Below are a few key tips to consider to prevent lameness issues in your herd or flock:

  • Ensure that stock are being checked as regularly as possible to pinpoint any issues before they become out of hand. Moreover, drovers are the best people to identify any lameness in your herd as droving a herd from one area to another will soon distinguish whether sheep or cattle are lame. Bringing herds in as close to single file as possible allows workers to look over each animal more thoroughly.

  • When moving stock, it is important to reduce the use of dogs. Dogs are known to sit at the heels of cows and push too hard in dairy systems, thus causing extra pressure on the hoof, potentially resulting in lameness.

  • Easing the push up of gates in the yards. Pushing the back stock up hard isn’t going to make the front stock want to move forward, it is important to understand why the animals aren’t moving forward.

  • Manage lame cattle and sheep early to reduce the number of bacteria spread to other stock on the farm.

  • Ensure general hygiene and biosecurity of the property is maintained and that pastures, containment areas, feed pads etc. are clean. This is essential as overexposure to excessive amounts of manure, urine and bacteria can often lead to erosion of the hooves and bacterial infections.

  • Make sure any pastures and laneways to move stock are clean and well drained. The laneways should be maintained with a good base, so they don’t bog when it rains. In addition, dairy farms have also used wood chips along laneways to give the cows something soft, dry, and well drained to walk on.

  • Fence off waterlogged and boggy areas to reduce the risk of the stock standing in these areas.

  • Foot baths can be used to reduce the spread of new infections and are a great way to keep the animals’ hooves clean as well as coating the tubulars of the hoof horn which increases the general hoof hardness. Foot bathing in Zinc Sulphate or Copper sulphate decreases the severity and incidence of hoof lesions.

  • Hoof mats are another option, proving to be more effective than footbaths in dairy systems. As the cow steps onto the mat, the pressure from the cow’s weight will cause the solution to cover the hoof. It is important this is used before going into the milking shed as this will allow the solution to soak into the hoof during the duration of the milking, before going back into a dirty environment. Although hoof mats with solution are not commonly seen in beef and sheep systems, they do have the ability to implement a similar practice.

  • Rubber mats are another tool worth considering, they are softer & cleaner on the animal’s hooves than concrete. In dairy’s it is good tip to put rubber matting on all pivot points for the animals. Constant twisting of the hoof grinds it down, increasing the chance of lameness.

  • Rotational grazing & moving stock to drier paddocks can also be used which is essential to prevent the buildup of bacteria.

Additionally, nutrition plays a key role in the formation and maintenance of the hoof. It is crucial that the stock are getting the correct balance of dietary fats, protein, and energy otherwise nutritional issues can occur. Weight loss after calving is an essential consideration. Ensuring the stock aren’t losing too much weight too quickly is important as rapid weight loss can result in fat shrinkage of the pads in their hoof, making them tender and therefore lame. Furthermore, the supplementation of minerals such as zinc and selenium are also very important when it comes to hoof, bone, and muscle development and biotin helps to maintain the integrity of the hoof wall.

  • Zinc is an important contributor in the formation of the structural keratin protein which is crucial for strong hoof formation. Studies have indicated that lame cows have lower concentrations of zinc in their hoof horns than healthy cows. Along with zinc, Copper is essential as the formation of structural keratin cannot be formed if copper levels are inadequate. Supplementing zinc and copper in the diet will improve the hoof quality while having other positive impacts on the biochemical reactions within the animal.

  • Biotin is an essential group B vitamin that helps to support hoof growth and quality by strengthening the join between the keratin blocks. Biotin is also required to produce keratin and the epidermal tissues around the horn of the hoof, it also increases the water resistance.

  • Selenium’s role is to protect the structure of the hoof horn from damage. Selenium protects the oils and fat from oxidation, meaning that this stops the hooves from getting dry and cracked.

It is important to prevent lameness issues from occurring within your herd or flock before it’s too late. Interestingly, it may take up to 6 weeks to notice changes in hoof health as the minerals do not change the existing hoof structure, they form new keratin bodies, therefore, forming a new and improved hoof horn. Assessing your management techniques and starting to supplement them with zinc and biotin now will be crucial as it will take time to strengthen and grow hooves leading into the winter.

TRAC Performance Minerals has a Hoof Health solution available containing increased levels of Biotin, Copper & Zinc plus all the other essential vitamins & minerals scientifically designed to maximise productivity & performance of your stock.

If you would like help managing the hoof health of your animals leading into winter,

please get in touch with one of our Experts In Ruminant Productivity

to tailor an individual plan for your animals this year.

Phone the TRAC Office on 08 8733 1888 or email us at


Our Consultants


Owen Rees

0429 437 823

Mark Facy

0427 243 320

Mikaela Baker

0457 243 319


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