Ask the Vet

Herd Sires Have To Be Dependable

When a bull presents with foot or leg problems, it's important to think about how dependable he can really be as a herd sire. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo)


We have a beautiful 5-year-old Hereford bull, a former show animal. He came up lame in the back left leg, and it looked like a pus-filled abscess in the top of his hoof. We took him to two vets. Both gave him antibiotic shots and told us to cull him. We want to keep him, but every time we get him better and put him in to breed cows, he comes up lame in about a month. Are we out of options?


When there is pus at the coronary band, it often indicates an infection from the heel or sole of the foot that has worked its way from the bottom of the hoof to top, due to the pressure of walking. In my experience, this is often due to a puncture wound, but it can also result from founder or laminitis.

Founder is an inflammation of the lamina that holds the hoof to the coffin bone. With founder, this can come unattached from the hoof wall and rotate downward. This can damage the sole or create a break in the white line where the sole attaches to the hoof.

Any break in the integrity of the sole, whether from a puncture or from founder, allows bacteria from the soil to infect tissues under the sole. This infection can be very painful as it builds up pressure within the hoof walls. The infection can even get into joints and create septic arthritis. This type of infection can be very difficult to control, and even if it resolves, can lead to crippling arthritis.

Regarding laminitis, there are many causes, but in cattle, rumen acidosis has been commonly linked to it. Acidosis causes certain bacteria to die and release endotoxins that can lead to inflammation in the hoof. High-concentrate diets and stress can take a toll on rumen pH and the delicate balance of microbes at work there. I have to wonder if this bull may have had mild laminitis at some point. In my experience, show cattle are often developed and maintained on high-energy diets.

I understand this bull is important to you, and if you really want to keep him, I'd recommend a thorough examination. A tilt table or chute is really useful in a case like this because it allows for close assessment of the claws and sole. While there may be treatment options that can help him because this involves the rear legs, I'm concerned lameness could return during breeding season, even if he improves in the off months.

I wish I had better news, but like the other vets you've spoken with, I too have concerns about whether this bull can be a dependable breeder for your operation.


Editor's Note: Please contact your veterinarian with questions pertaining to the health of your herd or other animals. Every operation is unique, and the information in this column does not pertain to all situations. This is not intended as medical advice but is purely for informational purposes.

Write Dr. Ken McMillan at Ask the Vet, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email