Johan Combrink, nicknamed ‘Johan Hoewe’, has pioneered proper management of cattle hooves in the South African beef production industry.
The hoof protects the foot, and its outer structures are the first line of defence against foreign objects and infection.
Sound hoof management procedures can greatly reduce hoof problems in all types of animals, including cattle, and a well-organised hoof care programme will contribute to the long-term sustainability and profitability of any concern, he says.
He has also branched out into the management of game species’ hooves, a first for Africa.
Johan, who trained under well-known Brahman breeder, Manie Maritz, says that many conditions can be prevented with effective hoof trimming.
After seeing hydraulic chutes for immobilising cattle in the US, he designed his own mechanical immobilising chutes.
“My moveable chutes allow me to immobilise the animals quickly and effectively for easy access to the feet. It means less stress for the animal and creates a safer working environment for the farrier,” he says.
In the past, corrective hoof trimming was carried out mostly on dairy cattle, and not
on show animals. However, there has been a growing appreciation among commercial and stud beef cattle farmers for the positive benefits of corrective hoof trimming.
According to Johan, hoof health is affected by various factors. In a hot, dry climate, for example, hooves can become hardened, resulting in brittleness. Under wet conditions, hooves can become softened, which could contribute to bacterial infections and penetration by foreign objects.
“Whatever the reason, hoof health markedly contributes to overall herd health. A cow with painful feet in an extensive farming concern will find it painful to walk long distances to [the veld to graze], resulting in a loss of condition.”
This could cause her to lose weight rapidly, affecting milk production, and, in turn, making it difficult for her to successfully care for a calf. A good hoof treatment programme will prevent this.
Basic hoof structure
Johan stresses that it is important for a livestock owner to understand the basic structure and anatomy of the hoof. Cattle are cloven-hooved animals, with the hoof consisting of two digits: the outer and the inner claws.
If these grow too long, they must be trimmed to improve the animal’s walking ability.
However, if the hoof has been left for a considerable period, the trimming must be done in stages to give the hoof time to heal in between. (Blood vessels grow outwards as the claws develop.)
This extended cutting process wastes time and puts unnecessary stress on the animal. If the hooves are maintained regularly, two trimmings should be sufficient.
Cracked hooves call for immediate action. Horizontal, as well as vertical, cracks can occur. Moreover, small cracks can develop rapidly into large ones, markedly restraining an animal’s movements and causing pain and lameness.
In addition, cracks can indicate problems in an animal’s diet, genetic makeup or overall health. Large cracks should be treated quickly to prevent complications, such as disease or lameness in the advanced stages.
“I’ve found that cracked hooves often indicate a lack of biotin or zinc, so providing these elements could prevent future cracks,” says Johan.
Walking difficulties could also indicate foot rot, or an abscess or wound on the hoof. Foot rot causes swelling in the tissue where the hoof is attached to the foot. In chronic cases, the hoof could loosen. This disease can be prevented by inspecting hooves regularly.