A shoe for every occasion

When a cow suffers lameness from a hoof injury a shoe might help, veterinarian Lisa Whitfield writes.

In Livestock6 Minutes

The long, wet winter and spring has thrown up a number of different hoof conditions in cows around the country. In many instances lame cows require a shoe to be applied while the lameness heals, but with so many cow shoes on the market, how do you know which one is right for the job?

Cow shoes generally fall into one of three categories based on how long they are likely to last on the cow’s claw when applied correctly – long, medium or short-term shoes. Additional factors such as how quick they are to apply, the material they are made from, and the thickness of the shoe further differentiate the array of products on the market.

Long-term shoes

  • Take a while to apply, especially in cold temperatures
  • Durable – lasting 4+ weeks on the cow
  • Likely to need to be removed once the cow has healed

Long-lasting and going by a variety of brand names, they are firm rubber blocks with a thick sole, which enclose the tip of the toe. They adhere to both the sole and the hoof wall which is why they stay on so well. These blocks can easily last for four weeks or more on a cow, making them useful for hoof conditions which are going to require some time to heal, such as white line disease or toe abscesses. This type of shoe takes longer to apply compared to blocks as the glue takes more time to set, particularly in cold weather.

Claw preparation before application of the shoe is also more extensive. In many cases, shoes are so well set to the claw that they need to be removed after a few weeks once the original injury has healed.

Mid-term shoes

  • Quick to apply
  • Last two to three weeks on the cow
  • Wooden blocks wear down over time

The most frequent type of shoe I reach for is a basic hoof block. Made from either wood or rubber, these are quick to apply. Wooden blocks have the benefit of wearing down over time which means they don’t often need to be removed at the end of the treatment period. It is easy to adjust the position of a block on the sole to suit each cow, as they adhere only to the sole. Each block will fit a wide range of claw sizes making them a good choice for herds which have a variety of breeds. Blocks usually last about two to three weeks on a cow.

Short-term shoes

  • Quick to apply
  • Last up to two weeks on the cow
  • Fall off readily or wear through if they stay on longer

These blocks could be compared to a jandal. The short-term blocks are either made of dense foam or thin, flexible rubber. These are useful for conditions that require only a brief period of support, such as for cows which have thin soles.

Cows with thin soles are often affected in both claws of a limb and so, in contrast to any other type of lameness, these shoes are often applied to both claws in the same leg at the same time.

These shoes provide a cushion between the sole and the ground allowing the cow to be comfortable while the sole grows out. These shoes last up to two weeks on a cow.

Tips for shoe application

  • Long- and medium-lasting types of shoe should only be fitted on to non-injured claws
  • Ensure you follow the application instructions for each different brand – different types of shoes have different preparation steps which affect the bonding strength of the glue
  • Blocks can be set slightly back from the toe, so there is minimal increase in breakover point when the cow walks.
  • Ensure blocks and shoes fit the cow – their length should extend slightly beyond the heel so that the cows weight is fully supported, rather than creating a pressure point across the heel.
  • A shoe has the potential to cause lameness in itself if they are left on too long. If a lame cow is more lame with a shoe on, or has persistent lameness – check it isn’t the shoe causing the problem. Cows are more likely to experience claw-strains from shoes if they are on heat, or if the ground is very hard.

Lisa Whitfield is a Manawatu-based production animal veterinarian.