Lucy’s Limp

This past October, Lucy came up limping. I was able to walk her from the Mountain field all of the way back to the working area and administer a dose of LA300 antibiotic. Her limp cleared up after a few days, she went back to the herd and all was well. Until last Friday morning when I fed the cows grain to check on everyone, again in the Mountain field.

Lucy stayed behind in the woods which is always telltale sign something is wrong. I went to find her and she struggled to stand, her limp was back, much worse than before. As I took a closer look at Lucy’s feet, her back hooves were long, crossing over each other and she was putting her weight on the back edge of her foot. To make the situation even more complex, she had a 6 week old calf at her side, an age that is too old to be easy and too young to be on her own for long.

The next day, we used the dart gun to administer 16cc of Draxxin in the hopes of getting Lucy stable enough to walk to the working facility. Two days later, she could walk, although slowly and still with a pronounced limp. After calling the vet to schedule a farm visit, we moved the whole herd back to the South field to facilitate separating out Lucy and her calf. Then we moved the pair through the Backyard field and finally up and into the corral. Poor Lucy was ready for a rest after the hike.

I was very worried about this cow’s prognosis. Her hooves were obviously longer than normal and curled, but the limp had developed very quickly. One day she was fine and the next day, she could hardly move. If Lucy’s case was terminal, I had no idea how I was going to raise her 6 week old heifer.

Dr Pat Comyn arrived with his son Daniel, a student in Virgina Tech’s veterinary program, trailering the bovine tilt table. What a lucky young man, on the job training with hands-on experience to supplement this spring’s online university classes.

Before I had even moved Lucy into the alleyway, Pat took one look at her feet and said, “She has corkscrew claw.”. He explained that Corkscrew Claw is a genetic trait that causes hooves to curl and grow down and around the bottom of the hoof. This condition can contribute to a variety of other foot issues such as foundering, abscesses and lameness. There is no permanent cure, but with care and maintenance, Lucy would be able continue as a herd cow.

With Lucy inside the unit, Pat and Daniel strapped her to the table and tilt it up. Then they chain all four hooves down to immobilize her.

The look on Lucy’s face as she found herself lying on her side, strapped to the table with all four feet dangling in mid air was priceless.

With Lucy securely on the table and somewhat calm, Dr Comyn was able to take a closer look. She had been favoring her right rear leg the most and just above her hoof line, Pat saw an abscess. An abscess can develop quickly and is terribly painful which is why poor Lucy went from feeling fine to barely being able to move in a day’s time.

Abscess just above the hoof line

Her two front hooves needed trimmed and shaped, but were not as in bad condition as the rear hooves. Daniel started work on the front feet using a hoof trimmer and an electric grinder to clean out the crevices and remove excess hoof material.

Lucy’s back hooves were in terrible shape, long, curled and folding from the sides down and underneath the hoof. Dr Comyn worked on these with grinders, knives and nippers. Pieces of hoof were flying everywhere!

All the while that Lucy was getting her feet worked on, her little heifer waited patiently in the working area. She is a beautiful calf, dark red coat and very spunky.

After a lot of work, Lucy’s feet were steadily beginning to resemble a normal cow’s hoof again instead of the pointed elf feet.

Dr Comyn turned his attention to the abscess, which had blown out of at the top of Lucy’s hoof. The spot was still seeping and soft to the touch compared to the rest of her hoof.

After reshaping the hooves but before cleaning the abscess, Pat fit a protective pad to the good half of Lucy’s back right foot. He filled the pad with epoxy, warmed it with a heat gun and then stuck it on to the inner hoof. The pad raises Lucy’s foot off of the ground enough to let the side with the access heal before Lucy fully walks on it.

As Pat cut away the hoof, the path of the abscess was exposed. He opened the path up enough to completely drain the infection, ease the pressure and also promote healing by preventing the area from closing and becoming reinfected.

Soon, all four of Lucy’s feet were beautifully trimmed, tapered downward, smooth on the bottom and ready to support a 1400lb cow. Lucy will need an annual trim to keep the corkscrew growth from returning and to hopefully prevent any further abscesses.

Because the condition is hereditary, Dr Comyn suggested genomic testing for our herd for corkscrew claw. Knowing which of my girls have the gene will enable me to make an informed decision about which heifers to keep or sell. In addition, using bulls with good foot structure will help keep the condition from being passed along to the calves. Thankfully, Shane’s feet seem to be fine.

In spite of the short trim and green slipper on her back foot, Lucy looked amazingly more comfortable as soon as she regained her composure after the exiting the tilt table. Her gait was nearly normal, the limp almost gone and her calf very happy to be reunited with mama.

I will keep the pair in the Backyard field for a few days to make sure all is well before returning them to the main herd. So nice to see a happy, flat-footed Lucy!