Foot rot in cattle is a deceptively treacherous malady. Not only is it easy to misdiagnose foot rot (approximately 20 percent of all lameness treated by veterinarians is caused by foot rot), but when left untreated, foot rot can be debilitating, if not fatal, to the animal. Foot rot can easily develop in areas of less than ideal ground cover or when there is too much moisture — conditions certain to be found in many Florida pastures. So what can the rancher do to keep a minor pain in the hoof from becoming a major issue?
Foot rot is caused by a fairly common bacterium. Typically, the skin between the hoofs protects the interdigital space from these bacteria in the outside world, but if an injury occurs to the foot or the hoof matter (such as abrasions caused by rough surfaces, rough terrain, hard stalks, and sharp gravel), external contaminants can enter the system. Then, if the animal spends a lot of time in overly moist environments, this infection can progress into foot rot.
The early signs of foot rot are lameness and swelling of interdigital tissues or around the hairline of both hooves. Eventually, the skin splits open to reveal a foul-smelling, necrotic inner material of infected tissue. Left untreated, the swelling may continue up the foot to the fetlock or higher.
The earlier treatment can be implemented, the more likely it is to be successful. First, the area should be cleaned and examined by a veterinarian to confirm if the cause of the lameness is indeed foot rot. If it is, they will typically prescribe a topical treatment, although antibiotics could also be used. Move the animal to a dry area during the healing phase — but if the infection does not improve within three or four days, you should call the vet again.
As the infection is dependent on two external factors — sharp gravel or brush to break the skin, and extended time on moist ground — the best prevention is to minimize exposure to these conditions. Try to maintain pasture land as smooth as possible, and try to minimize the time the animals are standing around in wet, humid, congested areas — such as where the herd has deposited feces. Lastly, a solid nutritional regimen can help keep your cattle’s immune system ready to fight off an errant infection.
This article is sponsored by Labor Solutions, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of Central Florida Ag News or of its advertisers.
BIO: Baxter Troutman is founder and chief executive officer of Labor Solutions, a staffing company with offices in Bartow, Winter Haven, Lake Wales, Arcadia, and Plant City. You also can visit his Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch online at www.DH-LR.com. A cattle rancher and citrus grower who served in the Florida House of Representatives, Troutman understands the challenges and concerns of today’s farmer.