What causes thin soles?

Are thin soles a result of too much wear or a lack of growth? This may seem a strange question. Is it not the same thing? If the wear and the growth is out of balance you will either have hooves that are too thick or too thin. So, it must be both. Too much wear and not enough growth instead of either/or. What does it matter? I think it is an important question to think about. Most people that I talk with about lameness and thin soles believe that soles are thin because the cows walk too far. When the cows walk over the tracks the hooves will wear, therefore we conclude that the further they walk the more they wear and the thinner the soles become.

It is certainly possible that the hooves wear faster than they can grow. This is evident when cows are introduced to new concrete in a new barn or when bulls are introduced to the herd and the associating new life style of walking on the track. However, I don’t believe this to be a major consideration in our pasture-based farming systems in NZ. That is why I would like to introduce you to a different perspective. I believe that understanding what is really going on will help us to manage our cows better.

So, let’s examine whether or not the hooves are wearing too fast. If hooves are wearing too fast for the corium (live tissue in the foot that grows the hoof) to keep up with, then there should be a number of cows in the herd that have soles totally worn away, shouldn’t there? However, we only see that with those animals that I mentioned earlier who are introduced to abrasive walking surfaces, we don’t see it in our cows that have been in those environments for longer periods. The reason for this, is that the corium is not limited to one growth speed.

It is very similar to callus growth in our hands or on our feet. If your job is working behind the computer every day you will have less callus in your hands than someone who working with a shovel every day. If you start working with a shovel without callus’ in your hands you are going to get blisters. However, if you keep at it, your hands will adapt to the new environment and you will grow callus and blisters will stay away. If you decide after a year or so that you have had enough of shovel work and you go back to working behind the computer, you will lose the callus again. Your hands will re-adapt to the computer environment. You can see this principle of adaption everywhere in creation. Even to the point that if we poison bacteria for long enough we end up with penicillin-resistant bacteria. That is adaptation too. If cows are walking long distances the hooves will adapt to that no problem, unless there is another factor at play.

My hypothesis is that the reason some farms in NZ deal with thin soles is not because the hooves are wearing too fast but something is holding the corium back from responding properly. I don’t know for sure what that is, but I believe it may well have it’s roots in a lack of (certain) nutrients. If there is a limited amount of nutrients going into the cow then all the organs in the body have to go onto a rationing process. That would explain why soles  go thin but they don’t wear through because the corium does what it needs to do, but only at the bare minimum. The best way to combat this would be by abandoning the idea of controlled starvation.

Give it some thought and let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you info@dhi.ac.nz

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