One Sore Foot

D. E. Larsen, DVM

It was the middle of August, and we hadn’t seen any rain in weeks. You could almost taste the dust in this small pasture.

Bill Sieg looked down at me.

“Do you think he will fit in the chute?” Bill asked. “I haven’t tried to put him in it yet.”

We were in a small pasture behind the barn, and we were looking at Bill’s oldest herd bull. He was a massive Brangus bull. He probably tipped the scales at close to a ton.

“He is a pretty big bull,” I said. “Your chute should be wide enough, but this guy is tall. He might have to squat a bit to get under the tailgate.”

“I called that guy with one of those tilting chutes to see if he could look at this bull’s foot,” Bill said. “He didn’t think he could fit him into his chute. And even if he could, he wasn’t sure he could get it tilted with the bull in it.”

“That foot is pretty sore,” I said. “He doesn’t even touch it to the ground.”

“Oh, he touches it down a little when he gets excited,” Bill said. “But he is not interested in moving around much. The good thing is we’re done with the breeding season. But I don’t want to lose him because of a sore foot.”

“Well, let’s try to put him in the chute and see what I can do for him,” I said. “We might get lucky and find something simple.”

Bill had dogs, but they were bird dogs, springer spaniels, not cow dogs. I walked out around the bull to get him headed to the corral. His head was up, and he shook it at me, but he made no effort to move. Even still, I was in dangerous territory.

I picked up a couple of dirt clods and threw one, hitting the bull on his butt. He moved, reluctantly, toward the corral. The corral was small enough that he was in the crowding alley once he was in it.

I closed him into the alley and pushed him toward the chute. With Bill on the headgate, the bull squeezed under the tailgate and lurched toward the headgate, and bill caught him perfectly and leaned with all his weight on the bar to squeeze his massive neck.

I hurried and closed the tailgate and pulled the squeeze closed as hard as I could. We dropped the side panel to allow access to his feet. He was holding his right front foot up enough that I could easily slip a rope onto it and tie it up so I could work on it. I was a little surprised at the total lack of resistance to my efforts.

I did an initial exam of the foot. There was no foot rot and no foreign body between the claws.

“He acts like he knows we are going to help him,” I said. “I don’t find anything simple. I will grab my hoof stuff and see what I can find. These hoofs are almost as hard as steel this time of the year. Hopefully, I can trim this one a little.”

I ran to the truck and grabbed a medicine bag and my hoof bag. 

I squeezed hard on the lateral claw in several locations with the hoof tester. There was no response from the bull. Then I moved to the inside claw. With the hoof tester on the end of the toe, I squeezed. The bull bellowed and bounced the entire chute. 

I stood back a minute, thinking he could tip the chute over.

“I think you found something,” Bill said with a snicker.

I went back to work with the hoof tester. This time I put a squeeze on the middle of the inside claw, there was no response, and it was the same on the rear portion of the claw.

“I think he has an abscess on the tip of the toe on the inside claw,” I said. “The good thing is these will usually heal rapidly once they are opened and drained. The bad thing is I have to try to dig in the sole of this foot, and that is going to be hard.”

I ran a file over my hoof knife before I started, but even with a sharp edge, I couldn’t dig into the sole of the hoof. Next, I took the hoof trimmer and loped off the tip of the claw. The bull jumped a little, and pus sprayed in all directions. It smelled bad.

“Boy, that’s rank,” Bill said. “You must have found the pus pocket.”

“Yes, I’m going to clean this up a bit, but just getting that open is going to make him feel a whole lot better,” I said. “You can imagine how much pressure the pus was under by how it sprayed when I nipped the tip off his toe.”

I cleaned up the abscess and medicated it topically. I wanted to release his foot to see how he was standing on it, but I restrained myself, knowing it would be difficult to pick it up again. 

“I have a new thing that I am going to try on this,” I said.

“I’m not too sure about new things,” Bill said. “I sort of like doing things the old way you do them.”

“I’m going to epoxy a wood block on the bottom of his good toe,” I said. “That will keep this sore toe off the ground while it is healing. He should be a lot more comfortable.”

“Okay, that sounds like something that might help him out awhile,” Bill said. “But are we going have to get him in again to take it off?”

“The box says it will just wear off,” I said.

I retrieved the block and the epoxy mix from the truck. It was pretty straightforward. I just mixed up the epoxy to a thick consistency, spread it on the sole of the good claw, and seated the block onto the epoxy. 

We waited for the epoxy to harden, and I released the rope so the bull could stand on his foot. He seemed to enjoy having his foot on the ground.

I loaded him up on some long-acting sulfa boluses. That was a chore, but this guy was pretty gentle for a bull.

When everything was done, it was time to let him out of the chute. It was more difficult to release him than to catch him, but he finally sprung out of the open head gate.

He took a couple of steps and turned to look at us. I liked to think he was saying thank you.

Then on his next step, the wood block snapped off and flew through the air.

“I guess that wasn’t made for a bull his size,” Bill said. “I hope that wasn’t expensive.”

“My expense, Bill,” I said. “I don’t charge for trials that don’t work. My problem is that it comes in a two-pack, and I either have to find a gentle cow to try it on or throw the other one away.” 

“My guess is you would be better off just throwing the stuff in the trash,” Bill said.

I opened the gate and let the bull back into the pasture. He was limping but walking on his foot.

“He looks a whole lot better,” Bill said. “Do you think that will heal up okay?”

“I think he will be fine,” I said. “Getting that abscess open allows him to go from holding that foot up to walking on it with only a slight limp.”

The bull healed well, and when I dropped by to check on him the following week, he was walking normally in the pasture.

I took Bill’s advice and threw the other block in the trash. It seemed like a good idea, but it was probably thought up by some guy who had never worked with real cows.

Photo by Tony Mucci on Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

5 thoughts on “One Sore Foot

      1. Well, in my world 10 pounds equals 4.5 kilos. I could afford the loss but that puts me below my weight at discharge from the Army over 50 years ago. The distribution of that weight is not the same, however.

        Liked by 1 person

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