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Journal of the South African Veterinary Association

On-line version ISSN 2224-9435
Print version ISSN 1019-9128

J. S. Afr. Vet. Assoc. vol.80 n.4 Pretoria  2009




Inadequate thickness of the weight-bearing surface of claws in ruminants



A S Shakespeare

Department of Production Animal Studies, Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X04, Onderstepoort, 0110 South Africa. E-mail:




The term 'thin soles' refers to the suboptimal thickness of the weight-bearing surface of claws in ruminants. These palmar/plantar surfaces of the claws support the weight of the animal and consist of the distal wall horn, the sole proper, the heel and the minute white line area. The sole should normally only bear weight on uneven or undulating surfaces. A decrease in the thickness of the weight-bearing claw surface will decrease the protective function of this structure and may alter the proportion of weight-bearing by each section with possible detrimental effects on hoof function. Horn tissue readily absorbs water and becomes softer which can lead to increased wear rates. Growth rates normally match wear rates but, unlike the latter, time is needed for the growth rate response to adapt to changes in wear rate. Concrete surfaces can be abrasive and dairy cows that spend their lactation cycle on these floors should be let out to pasture in the dry period so that their claws can recoup lost horn. Frictional coefficient is a measure of the 'slipperiness' of hooves on various surfaces. Newly laid or fresh concrete is not only abrasive but the thin surface suspension of calcium hydroxide that forms has a very alkaline pH which causes keratin degradation and is mostly responsible for the excessive claw wear that occurs. Four case studies are used to illustrate the importance of the distal wall horn, the dangers of over-trimming and the effects of disease and concrete on horn growth and wear rates.

Keywords: concrete, distal wall horn, frictional coefficient, growth rate, wear rate, weight-bearing surface



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Received: June 2009
Accepted: September 2009

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