Do stones really cause a problem for cows?

We recently held another Hoof Care Expo and the theme was “Are stones really an issue for your cows?” It amazes me how convinced people are that stones can penetrate hooves and that bruises in the hoof are caused by stones. I often ask this question and I will do it again now. How do you know that stones really cause holes and bruises in hooves? The most common answer I get is “because sometimes the stones are still in the hoof”. The problem with that is: I get stones stuck in the soles of my gumboots. However, this is by no means proves that the stones are the cause of the grooves in the sole of my gumboot. So, if that logic does not work with my gumboot, why would it work with cow’s hooves?

Therefore, what other evidence is out there to prove that stones are an issue? No-one has ever been able to show me with undisputable evidence that stones are an issue. Just because so many people believe that stones do cause problems with hooves does not mean that they do. Just because it seems like a possibility doesn’t mean it happens. If stones are the cause of holes in hooves, why do the holes never go deeper than up to live tissue. A nail, tooth, or anything else sharp, goes all the way in but a stone never does. Somehow a stone manages to go through a hard hoof but when it gets to the soft tissue, where the going gets easier, it always stops! Is it possible that the hole grew down into the hoof because of an unhealthy live tissue? Would that not explain why the stone only goes up as far as the live tissue because the hole doesn’t go deeper?

What about the bruises? How come we get less lameness issues when we trim the hooves according to the Dutch method? With this method we make the outside claw thinner so that both the claws end up bearing the same amount of the weight of the cow. If stones caused an issue for hooves, then we should see more bruising and lameness after we trim the cows than we do before the cows are trimmed, and we did formal research a few years ago that shows that not to be the case at all. Lameness goes down the hoof. How is that possible when you make a claw thinner and therefore more vulnerable? How can you still blame the stones?

Understanding the causes of lameness better will help you to manage lameness better. Because there are so many negative effects from lameness it makes a lot of sense to spend time thinking about it and make management changes. The problem is much more complicated than stones. It is much more a cow comfort issue. When cows are being pushed, standing in the rain, waiting to be milked, being under-fed, and many other things, the stress levels go up and problems like lameness become more prevalent.

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