May 2018
Farm & Field

No Hoof - No Bull

Lameness in bulls increases during prolonged wet weather, but good management practices can avoid this costly ailment.


Regardless of his bloodlines, exceptional musculature or superior EPDs, if he is lame he isn’t going to breed cows to pass on those magnificent genes – so he’s useless to you.

We’ve all heard the saying "no hoof – no horse." This saying is popular because a lame horse is of little use to its owner. The same applies to our bull. Regardless of his bloodlines, exceptional musculature or superior EPDs, if he is lame he isn’t going to breed cows to pass on those magnificent genes – so he’s useless to you.

Common causes of lameness in pastured cattle are cuts, punctures and foot rot. Cattle that have developed fescue toxicity from grazing endophyte-infected fescue pastures experience a loss of blood circulation to the feet, causing lameness as well.


How Does Wet Weather Increase Lameness?

While parts of the West and Southwest are experiencing severe drought, the East and Upper Mid-West are having another wet spring. All of that water is conducive to the development of lameness.

Cattle that continually stand in water and mud experience softened hooves – just like your fingernails after a long bath. Softened hooves are less impervious to punctures and abrasions and thus injuries are more likely to occur. Open wounds provide an avenue to infection by foot rot bacterium.

Wet weather also promotes rapid pasture growth and can inhibit haying and clipping activities. For cattle grazing infected-fescue pastures, this can be detrimental. The ergot fungus responsible for fescue toxicity is more concentrated in seed heads than in other parts of the plant. When cattle are forced to consume more seed heads (either on pasture or in overmature hay), they will intake more of the ergot toxins and are more likely to show symptoms of fescue toxicity.



Luckily, most lameness can be prevented, or at least made less severe, with good management. Here are some tips:

  • Maintain good drainage in and around watering and feeding areas.

  • Do not utilize sharp gravel in areas where cattle walk.

  • Do not purchase animals from herds showing signs of lameness.

  • Treat animals at the first sign of lameness.

  • Cull cattle displaying chronic lameness.

  • Keep fescue pastures clipped to reduce the number of seed heads and to maintain pasture nutritional quality.

  • Have fescue pastures tested to determine the extent of endophyte infection. This allows you to make better choices regarding nutrition and management.

  • Dilute fescue pastures by interseeding with legumes.

  • Provide year-round, free-choice access to a high-quality mineral supplement containing adequate zinc and copper.


The Role of Mineral Nutrition

Proper mineral nutrition, especially zinc and copper, can help to improve hoof health, as well as counteract the negative effects of the ergot toxin.

Zinc is a critical nutrient involved in maintaining hoof tissues, including, but not limited to, production of keratin (the part making the hoof hard), improved wound healing and improved cellular integrity. Zinc-deficient cattle exhibit increased claw and hoof disorders, as well as skin disorders and poor wound healing. Improved zinc nutrition has been shown to improve hoof health in deficient animals.

Copper is required for strong keratin bonds (hoof hardness), as well as antioxidant activity. Copper deficiency decreases the structural strength of hoof tissue. Copper deficiency also results in decreased immunity, infertility and decreased growth.

Research has shown the fescue endophyte not only decreases the total amount of copper present in the plant but also negatively affects bioavailability of the copper present for the animal. This makes sense when you consider typical symptoms for fescue toxicosis closely resemble those for copper deficiency. These symptoms include hoof problems; rough, discolored hair coats; slow-to-shed winter coats; decreased conception rates; increased days open; and depressed immunity. For all of these reasons, lowered copper status plays a large part in the fescue toxicosis syndrome. Proper supplementation with a high-copper supplement can help alleviate some of the fescue toxicity symptoms.



Natural deficiencies and antagonists in soils make proper supplementation of zinc and copper extremely important for all cattle, but especially to those grazing fescue pastures. Cattle producers who have observed lameness in their cattle or wish to improve overall hoof health should consider use of one of the SWEETLIX CopperHead line of mineral supplement products.

All CopperHead supplement products deliver enhanced levels of copper, as well as balanced levels of zinc and other essential minerals and vitamins. The CopperHead line of mineral supplements contains organic forms of zinc, copper, manganese and cobalt for optimum bioavailability.

SWEETLIX CopperHead supplements also have the added advantage of RainBloc for improved resistance to moisture resulting in less waste. RainBloc-protected minerals form a thin, pliable crust on top during a rain event. This crust is readily eaten by cattle and doesn’t need to be broken apart.


In summary, lameness increases during prolonged wet weather. There are many management practices you can employ to reduce the incidences of lameness in bulls, as well as the rest of the herd. Included among these is proper supplementation of zinc and copper. Many cattle show deficiency symptoms including hoof problems, discolored hair coats, slow-to-shed winter coats, depressed immunity, decreased conception rates and increased days open. If your cattle experience any of these symptoms, you should use one of the SWEETLIX CopperHead line of mineral supplements to help enhance copper and zinc nutrition.

Ask for CopperHead by name at your local Quality Co-op, call 1-87SWEETLIX, visit or like us on Facebook to learn more about these and other SWEETLIX supplement products for cattle.


Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations ( You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about SWEETLIX mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep and wildlife. References available upon request.