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Lameness At Pasture

One of the most comm on conditions encountered in our beef cattle is lameness during the summer grazing period.

Whether on calves, cows, yearlings or bulls, none are immune from developing some types of lameness. Surprisingly enough, many really don’t require much for treatment, yet many are treated.

Producers often use the all-encompassing term of foot rot, yet most lameness at pasture is not caused by foot rot. This year (summer of 2011) could see a higher-than-normal incidence of foot rot with all the extra rainfall most areas have experienced.

This article will try and differentiate the many forms of lameness we see at pasture and the steps necessary to correct them.

Just as an example, I supervised 90 dry cows at pasture last summer and out of 12 incidents of lameness I encountered (all on different cows), only one case was treated. All the rest cleared up uneventfully.

After lame livestock are spotted, get close to them, and spend some time observing them.


First, determine which leg is lame. Look for swelling, the degree of weight bearing on the affected leg and how they ambulate. Evidence of cracks, the toes spread apart, corns, long hooves or curled toes may all cause pain in the foot. As with any condition or illness record the description of the animal including colour, ear tag and any other distinguishing features as this makes them easier to find on the recheck.

Once the location and condition causing the lameness have been determined, determine a course of action. My main point here is if you have a true foot rot with swelling of the foot, and in advanced cases, dead rotting flesh between the toes, treatment should be very effective with antibiotics.

A number of the long-acting antibiotic products are very effective against foot rot and often one shot, if caught early, can be curative. Some newer products need a veterinary prescription if used against foot rot, so work with your veterinarian on a course of action that works.

Most lameness falls into two broad categories. Those that need more involved procedures done and those which need to simply convalesce on their own. By more involved procedures, the examples are broken legs which may need anything from emergency slaughter in larger animals to either casting or splint applications in younger ones.

In young calves, casts and splints, depending on the location of the break have a very high success rate if found early before the bone has broken out through the skin.


A couple other conditions which need further care are sole abscesses and septic arthritis. With sole abscesses there is almost no weight bearing, yet often no swelling is evident. These need to be brought home and a therapeutic foot trim performed by your veterinarian.

The abscess is opened up and drained. We often see this in association with bad feet or a crack in the wall which allows the infection to enter. Because the infection is enclosed and just under the sole it is very painful when weight is placed on the affected foot.

As with other very painful conditions it will be up to you and your veterinarian whether painkillers are given. Sometimes limping with convalescence allows the condition to heal quicker rather than removing the pain and having a false sense of improvement. Then, when the painkillers wear off the condition worsens.

A septic arthritis is when infection has been introduced into the last joint just beneath the hoof. The history of these is they often have been treated many times with antibiotics with no improvement. The infection often breaks out just above the hoof. Oftentimes the curative procedure is either amputating the toe or drilling out the joint.

Either procedure requires restraint, local anesthetic and is best done at a clinic. There is also followup care so removing from pasture is the obvious thing to do.

Most other lameness problems are transient and my suggestion is to not stress the cattle out by catching them initially. Cattle can sprain or strain themselves in a multitude of ways: stepping in gopher holes, slipping on wet terrain or rock bruises can all lead to transient lameness problems.


Cattle with poor feet, long hooves or abnormal gaits are definitely more predisposed to these as well. Hoof abnormalities such as cracks (horizontal or vertical), corns or long hooves ripping off too short will also lead to lameness. A good hoof trimming in the spring will prevent a lot of these problems the following summer.

By maintaining your herd’s hoof care and selecting breeding stock – especially the herd bulls – for good feet and legs will go a long ways to preventing pasture lameness. For those that do occur, don’t rush for the antibiotic syringe without first closely assessing the actual cause. Remember for lameness that can’t be treated, emergency slaughter is always an option as long as drugs have not already been given.


Thisarticlewilltryanddifferentiatethe manyformsoflamenessweseeatpasture andthestepsnecessarytocorrectthem.



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