Leg structure and health in pre-breeding beef and dairy heifers is important, but often does not get much attention.

However, because udder development at calving naturally changes rear leg posture and changes weight bearing dynamics slightly from the non-lactating to the lactating state, fostering sound structure and leg/hoof development is important, says Jan Shearer, DVM, MS, Iowa State University.

“Conformation and healthy development of sound foot and leg structure are absolutely critical for the future success of any bovine, but particularly so if they are to be housed primarily on concrete,” Shearer says. “In our present-day large scale dairy operations, cows must be able to walk significant distances on a daily basis whether it’s to and from the milking parlor or to the feedbunk and back.

“We also know that they must be able to establish some degree of dominance in order to compete within their respective groups and they must be able to respond to normal instincts and behaviors such as estrus which requires them to mount or stand to be mounted by herdmates or a bull.”

Nutrition and foot health
Nutrition plays a large role in structural development of the claw, skeletal structures and sound foot health. Trace minerals such as copper and zinc have important roles in the formation of claw horn where they serve in critical metabolic pathways that contribute to keratin formation (an important structural component of horn cells).

“The formation of keratin within the intracellular matrix of horn cells increases their physical strength, thus making them more resistant to mechanical forces when they reach the exterior of the claw horn capsule,” Shearer explains. “Biotin has similar functions and is essential to the proper development of the intracellular cementing substance analogous to mortar between bricks in a wall.”

Read the full article about pre-breeding beef and dairy heifer lameness in Bovine Veterinarian