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Why Do Cows Have Hooves (And Not Feet)?

Have you ever wondered why cows have hooves instead of real feet like humans? Of course, cows are not the only animals with hooves. Other animals like goats, sheep, pigs, deer, horses, and even bison, have hooves. 

Why do cows have hooves?

Cows need their hooves to be able to work comfortably on different terrains. The hooves also provide support for their weight and help to protect the toes. With the hooves, the cows can walk on hard surfaces and not get their toes damaged. 

While hooves make up most of the cow’s feet, they are not the feet. Instead, they act more like toenails and help to keep the toes from damage. We have researched some interesting facts about cow hooves, and the role they play in the physical makeup and overall well-being of cattle or bovines. So, why do cows have hooves and not feet? Let’s find out!

do cows have hooves

Do Cows Have Hooves?

Yes, cows have hooves just like most ungulate mammals. They form the hard lower part of the foot allowing easy movement and shielding the toe and inner tissues. 

Each hoof grows continuously just like human toenails, and thus often needs to be trimmed so it doesn’t get too long. 

The hoof is more than just a locomotive organ. It is a very important part of the cow’s physical makeup. Having problems in this area can affect the overall comfort, performance and production of the cow. 

As earlier indicated, cows are not the only animal with hooves. There are others such as horses, swine, deer, hyraxes, and so on. Some of these have even-toed hooves such as bovines and deer, while some others have odd-toed hooves such as rhinos and horses.

While the structure may differ, a cow hoof anatomy is very similar to that of other hoofed animals. The main areas are the wall, heel, periople and sole. 

Why Do Cows Have Hooves?

A cow’s hoof serves several purposes. Some of these include locomotion, weight support, providing traction and stability, and bone and tissue protection.

The hooves also help to maintain moisture balance in the feet, preventing excessive loss or gain. Other functions are protection from heat, injury and infection. 

This doesn’t mean the hoof cannot be stressed.

There are four main factors that contribute to the health and structure of a cow’s hoof at any point. These include genetics, athletic performance, the conformity of the hooves, and factors attributed to the environment. 

What Kind Of Hooves Do Cows Have?

Cows have cloven hooves, which means the hoof is made up of two parts that are nearly the same size. Each is called a claw, so they both form the claws on each foot.

Cows are not the only ones with this type of toes. Other even-toed animals include goats, pigs, deer, sheep, camels, and cattle generally. 

On the other hand, animals like rhinoceros and horses have an odd number of toes. For instance, a horse has just one toe per foot while a rhinoceros has got three toes on each foot.

What Causes A Cow’s Hooves To Grow Long?

There are three main things that can cause a cow’s hooves to grow long. They are: inactivity, ageing and weight bearing, and disease. 

Ageing

Weight distribution can also affect hooves growth. This is not usually a problem in young cows as their weight is more evenly distributed around each hoof. However, with maturity, the weight becomes heavier, and more demand is placed on the hooves. This leads to a situation where more keratin is deposited in the hooves, which in turn leads to more overgrowth.

Fun Fact: The average weight of a mature cow is just around a thousand pounds depending on the age and breed. Now imagine having all that weight on just four hooves. That’s quite a lot to carry! This is why the overall well-being and happiness of the cow depends much on how well the hooves are looked after.

Inactivity

Hooves generally grow continuously and for cows, it can take up to 15 months for the hooves to fully regrow.

Cows are usually active in the wild, so they wear down the hooves as it grows. On the other hand, domesticated cows don’t get to walk a lot, as they are normally left in barns or feed yards where they stand for most part of the day. For such cows, if the hooves are not trimmed often, they will end up growing too long, and sometimes may result to lameness or crippling.

cows in a barn

Disease

An infection like laminitis or founder can cause a cow’s hooves to grow long. The cow might become stiff or lame and find it hard to get up and down.

This condition can be linked to a number of factors such as hormonal changes, digestive disorders, lack of exercise, walking on hard surfaces, and even other infectious diseases. 

Why Do Cows Have Hooves Instead Of Feet?

Cows have hooves instead of feet because hooves provide better support for their massive body weight and makes it easier for them to move on rugged terrain. 

So, in comparison to paws or feet, a cow hoof is more durable and will allow them to go long distances that would normally shed feet or paws. Also, a cow’s hoof provides better support for its long legs.

That said, a fossil study by researchers reveals that over 50 million years ago, cows and other four limb animals actually had five toes. However, in cattle, these toes evolved into cloven hooves with two digits and two rudimentary claws. According to the study, the lost toes were to provide better traction for the cows and enable them to walk and run on different terrains. 

Other animals with similar evolutionary history are giraffes, horses, hippocampus and deer. 

Do Cows Feel Pain in Their Hooves?

Yes, cows can feel pain in their hooves if there’s an abnormality in the foot. This normally occurs when the hooves grow too much. In this case, walking becomes extremely painful, and this may lead to more problems in the joint or ligament. The cow can also pickup an infectious disease if the overgrown hoof is not treated. 

With an infectious disease, trimming has to be done more frequently to help reduce the pain experienced by the animal. 

Besides causing pain and discomfort, overgrown hooves also makes it difficult for the cow to compete for feed. You’ve probably heard it being said, “when there’s no feet, there’s no meat”. Well, it’s true. When a cow (or any livestock) doesn’t have good feet, feeding becomes difficult, which leads to weight loss, and consequently reduces productivity.

In the same manner, when the cow’s hoof is not properly trimmed or sharpened, it can lead to hairy warts, foot rots and similar diseases. All these can cause a lot of pain for the cow. This is why we recommend having a professional trim your cow hooves. 

Do Cows Hooves Need To Be Trimmed?

Yes, cow hooves need to be trimmed to avoid hoof problems.

As earlier indicated, cow hooves continue to grow. Thus allowing them to get too long can affect the normal movement of the cow or the way she walks. This often leads to lameness, which could be temporary or permanent. 

So, hoof trimming is not merely a routine you carry out occasionally to make your cow appear neater. It is important to ensure the comfort of the animal and to prevent lameness.

Why Do Cows Hooves Need To Be Trimmed?

Cows that do not have their hooves trimmed might have displaced weight where more pressure than normal is placed on a particular area on their foot. As this cow tries to adapt, this causes uneven wearing of her hooves and thus affects mobility. 

Besides poor hooves management, lameness can also be triggered by other factors such as a genetic condition, lactation, nutrition, housing facility, and floor type. Thus some cows can be more susceptible to lameness than others depending on their environment and the existing conditions there. 

Lameness makes it difficult or even impossible for a cow to run or walk, which can lead to other problems such as reduced production, and inability to get away from predators.

How Do Wild Cows Trim their Hooves?

Wild cows live in the wild, so they are usually more active than domesticated cows. They typically move from one pasture to another, sometimes plying over rocky terrains and slopes. By walking more often, they are able to wear down their hooves naturally. As a result, there’s little or no need to get their hooves trimmed. 

So we can conclude by saying that wild cows trim their hooves naturally by walking a lot. So even though their hooves continue to grow, they are able to wear them down through increased activity.

This is not usually the case with livestock or diary cows. Because they are commonly reared in confined facilities, they don’t walk a lot. Also the ground they walk on doesn’t usually provide enough abrasive activity to wear down their hooves. This is why, unlike their wild folks, they need to have their hooves trimmed. 

How Often Do Cows Need Their Hooves Trimmed

To answer simply, cows’ hooves should be trimmed every six months or at least biannually. From experience, I would say fall or winter seasons seem to be the best times, as the cows don’t get to move much during those times.

Even if your cow hooves doesn’t look like they need trimming, it’s always a good idea to get them checked. Like every other health issue, it’s better to seek prevention than cure. Don’t wait till you notice signs of potential lameness before you act. 

Depending on the level of activity on your farm, some cows’ hooves may not even need to be trimmed twice.

I have seen cross cows that never needed hoof trimming. Does that mean you shouldn’t get them checked? No, way! 

Again, I recommend checking every cow in your chute twice yearly.

NOTE: Don’t ever trim a cow that doesn’t need trimming. Over-trimming a cow is just as dangerous as poor or nonexistent trimming.

For cows with a foot abnormality or those that have suffered previous hoof diseases, trimming may be done more frequently. In this case, I would advise you get her checked every three months. Of course, the cow doesn’t need to be trimmed that often. The idea is to be proactive with your cows hooves health and care. 

There are basically two options you have when trying to trim a cow hoof – do it yourself or get a professional. 

If you decide to trim the cow yourself, then you can use a sharp knife. Before then, you have to tie down the cow in a good position.

Personally, I would go the other route, which is to hire a professional. Most hoof trimming done this way usually involve the use of modern machineries such as an angle grinder. It is usually neater and quicker. 

FAQs: Why Do Cows Have Hooves and Not Feet ?

What are cow hooves made of?

A cow hoof is made of keratin, the same substance found in horns, nails, feathers, skin and hair. Keratin is a type of protein that serves both protective and structural functions.  Cow hooves are usually hard and tend to grow in layers

Are cow hooves digestible

Cow hooves are very tough and not quite digestible, even for dogs. This is because they mainly consist of keratin, which itself is not very digestible. This simply means that if you end up giving a hoof to dog, you will likely see pieces of the hoof in its poop. 

That said, cow hooves can be used to improve the dental health of your dog, by giving it something to chew.

So they commonly serve as natural treats and are loved by most dogs. They taste great and take a lot of time to chomp on. Dogs generally enjoy such things. 

What Are Cow Hooves Used for

Besides serving as natural treats for dogs, there are several other uses of a cow’s hooves. 

  • Used for making glue or adhesive (when boiled)
  • The natural fat can be processed and used in pet food
  • For making keratin, which in producing gels, shampoos and other haircare product
  • Used to make bonemeal (this involves grounding the bone)
  • Making foam for extinguishing fire at airports
  • Serves as a natural treat (very tough) for pets and animals

Why do Cows Have Hooves Instead of Feet Joke?

A common cow pun you will frequently hear about is “why do cows have hooves instead of feet?”. And the answer you will often get to this question is “cows have hooves because they lac-tose.” The word “lactose” in the response is similar to a portmanteau, which sounds like the real original words used. The real answer is actually, “cows have hooves because they lack toes.” While this sounds more like a cow pun, it still says a lot about the lack of feet in cows. 

Conclusion

So, why do cows have hooves?

Cow hooves are important part of a cow’s make-up and affect her overall well-being. Besides serving for the purpose of locomotion, they also provide protection to the toes. This is why it’s essential to keep the hooves in good health.

While trimming isn’t a big deal, it is often recommended for cows that are confined most of the time. This prevents the hooves from growing too long, which can lead to lameness.

Let us know if you have any more questions about cow hooves, trimming and other related concerns. Till then, happy hoofing and trimming!

 

 

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