An animal that weighs somewhere between 1/2 to 3/4 of a ton is quite dependent on its feet to remain functional. There are no good crutches or wheelchairs for cows, no matter how cool that would be. So when a cow comes into the clinic limping, we try our best to make her comfortable on her feet so she can go back to happily frolicking with her buddies in the pasture.
We see a wide variety of foot issues here at the clinic. Just like people, cows can get ACL injuries, twisted “ankles” (not the right name in a cow, because they are put together different), infected joints, etc. However, because they only have two toes, they are unique in that if one toe is hurt it is a lot harder to walk because it bears 50% of the weight on that leg. That makes a bum toe a bigger problem for a cow than when you smack your toe on the coffee table.
Often when examining lame cows we see where one toe is hurt, but the other is just fine. To take the pressure of the hurt toe, I place a block on the good one. By a block, I mean just a simple wood block in the shape of the foot. It is attached using a quick-setting epoxy, similar to the JB Weld you can buy at the hardware store.
Like I previously said, cows are very heavy, so if one toe hurts they can look quite lame. Taking the weight off the bad toe makes a night and day difference in how they feel. Most of the time they will walk out of the clinic without any noticeable lameness, so you know they are feeling significantly better. Taking the weight off also helps the toe heal faster. The block naturally wears off with walking over the course of a couple months.
In addition to the block, I usually treat the cow with a medication. If there is an infection, I use an antibiotic, as the block alone will not cure an infection. Infections can also lead to permanent damage if left untreated. If there is no infection, I use an anti-inflammatory medication alone, to keep the swelling down.
Toe problems in cattle can be quite rewarding to work on, as they may walk in hurting and walk out feeling great. And as long as it is not a safety hazard, the cow can go back to happily frolicking in the pasture with a blocked toe.