Good stockmen (and women) know that to properly evaluate any animal, you need to start at the ground up. The fundamentals of livestock eval acknowledge if an animal – regardless of specie – isn’t sound on its feet and legs, it is going to have further structural issues and therefore not be competitive in the show ring or have longevity within the herd.
Sound feet and legs are quite literally the foundation that all animals need to stand and move on. And, although the basis of good structure begins with genetics, once you have taken an animal out of its natural environment and put it into a show barn, keeping those feet healthy and sound becomes a management and nutrition challenge for the feeder and exhibitor.
Because most animals were born natural grazers, they were initially bred to roam freely, and that daily walking keeps their hooves worn down to a healthy length. However, now that humans have decided to show animals, and in doing so, give these animals the best care possible, the animals and their hooves need a little extra attention.
Bedding & Stalling Surfaces
Depending on the specie that you are dealing with, you are most likely taking your animal out of its natural environment during the bulk of the day. For all species, if you pen them on dirt, you will want to keep a close eye on their hooves. Foot length grows longer on soft ground like dirt than it does where animals can naturally wear their hooves down on a harder surface. The lambs and goats may need their hooves trimmed more regularly because the dirt is soft, so their hooves won’t wear down. If you keep your pig on dirt, the dirt will absorb moisture like water and urine that might soak into the hooves causing them to get soft, so keep an eye on your pigs’ feet to make sure they are firm and healthy, as wet soft ground causes feet to become soft thus more sensitive on rougher surfaces.
If you are penning your animals on concrete, be sure to use a good bedding like white pine shavings that absorb the moisture and are easy to “pick” and dispose of.
When tying in your cattle during the day, decide which bedding is best for you – shavings, mulch, sand or straw. If you are using shavings or mulch, be sure there are no large pieces of wood that can be stuck between your calves’ toes and cause injury.
When it is time to exercise your animals make sure you have an area that is free of rocks and other debris that could cause harm to your animal. A rock could get caught between toes or in a crack that you might not have seen on your animal’s foot. Especially when you are just starting to drive your pigs, make sure the area you are in is free of anything they might step into or get caught up in.
Hoof Trimming and Maintenance
Blaine Rodgers, BioZyme® Inc., Show Livestock Business Development and Sales Support, said that no matter the species, hoof trimming will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine corrective needs vs. maintenance needs. More than likely, smaller species like lambs and goats will need their hooves trimmed on a regular basis during show season, whereas a calf may need it one time or several, depending on its hoof shape, size and integrity. Most pigs won’t need their feet trimmed; however, they will need to be monitored for cracking feet.
Corrective trimming will need to be done more frequently. A person can trim the hooves every 30-60 days to change the shape and the way the foot grows without having to be overly aggressive and create soreness. Maintenance trimming on a good-footed animal may only need to be done once or twice in a lifespan to just keep them the right length. It is better to leave the feet slightly longer than trimming them too small, according to Rodgers.
“The most important thing, especially when it comes to cattle, is to make sure you have someone educated in feet trimming with good equipment to do it for you. You can really help an animal, or you can hurt one by doing it the wrong way,” Rodgers said.
Often times, people will tend to over trim feet, getting the hoof too small. This challenge can impact them negatively from a structural standpoint by creating a smaller surface for them and breaking down the strength of their foundation. Rodgers recommends trimming feet far enough out from a show to make sure they aren’t sore on show day.
Seasons and moisture also influence the condition of your animal’s hooves. Often times, they will get soft during the wetter times of year or during winter when there is snow. They will harden during the hotter, dry days of summer. Finding hardening agents and conditioners labeled for meat animals is important, Rodgers said.
Perhaps the most important thing an exhibitor can do to care for their animal’s hooves is to provide them a diet rich in recommended nutrients for foot growth and health. Animal hooves are primarily composed of special protein called keratin. Calcium is needed to activate the enzyme needed to make keratin and to make the crosslinks between keratin fibers. Zinc is also essential for hoof growth and health, as it is the essential mineral in the formation of keratin. Biotin, also known as Vitamin B7 or Vitamin H (for hair and hoof) is responsible for the synthesis of keratin.
“When we formulated the Sure Champ products our first thought was keeping the gut healthy and keeping the show animals on feed and water. But we know that keeping show animals structurally sound and on healthy foot is just as important to their success in the show ring. That’s why we’ve included zinc and biotin in Sure Champ Extreme,” Rodgers said.
Sure Champ Extreme is a supplement that contains Amaferm® a precision-based prebiotic that impacts intake, feed digestibility and nutrient absorption for optimum digestive health and performance. It also contains plant extracts to help maintain body temperature during extreme temperatures, and of course zinc and biotin that not only aid in hoof health, but also skin and hair health.
Feeding Sure Champ Extreme every day is one sure way to keep your animals healthy, on feed and water, and looking their best from the ground up. EVERY. DAY.