Pretty good looking sheep feetI haven’t written about copper or hoof rot in a long time. It’s mostly that it just takes a long time to evaluate a change. Hoof rot is a complicated beast, and it seems each expert I meet or consult has a different opinion on its cause and solution.

Here are some of the pearls of wisdom I have noted from various sources:

  • Minerals and nutrition: I met one WSU vet who feels strongly that copper is a key factor (as does Ms. Pat Coleby, famous, but un-credentialed author). Another cited zinc, and another sulfur. A nutritionist told me that our high protein grass can cause the hoof wall growth to lay down big, widely-spaced and poorly bound cells too quickly, which are then more vulnerable to bacterial attack.
  • Temperature: the hoof rot bacteria thrives in warm weather, so expect it more in summer here than in winter.
  • Moisture: some people swear that dampness and mud are a culprit, though I find that the opposite is true: it’s the dry summer months where I see most of the problem. So that leads back to temperature.
  • Treatment: frequent (as much as biweekly) trimming, foot baths, adding medication with a boot or sealed with vet wrap and duct tape. (Good Lord.)
  • Vaccine: one friend swears by the Footvax vaccine, which is now no longer available in the U.S. Boo.
  • Longevity: though sheep lore says “once you’ve got hoof rot, you’ve always got it” that’s not quite true: the bacteria only lives a few weeks on soil. So keeping sheep moving, treating, isolating and culling sheep that have it can reduce or effectively eliminate it in a pasture.

I’ve seen a huge improvement in my flock- almost no lameness all year, with only a slight outbreak in a few sheep early in the fall. What is the cause of the improvement? The mineral supplements they’re on? The less rich grass we had in this poor growing season? Continual pasture rotation? The cooler weather? All of the above? Not sure. Maybe in ten years or so, I’ll have narrowed it down for certain! Winking smileI’m just glad I’m making progress, and not dealing with a herd of limping sheep all summer.

Foot rot problemI added another trick up my sleeve- a friend of mine told me about a treatment which is easier and more effective than foot baths. She mixes LA 200 (a broad-spectrum, long-acting antibiotic) with DMSO 50-50 (though I’ve read others do one-third/two-thirds) in a squeeze-style squirt bottle, and applies that to the affected hoof. She told me one application clears it right up in a day or two, and she’s right!

Local feed stores carry DMSO, but I didn’t know what it was and did some reading. Dimethyl sulfoxide is a curious clear solvent which is frozen at room temperature. It penetrates skin well, so it acts as a drug delivery mechanism. It’s used on humans for this purpose, and also often on livestock by itself as a pain reliever.

The thing to remember about LA 200 is that it isn’t approved for use in sheep in the U.S. I’m guessing that delivering it via DMSO would be considered “internal use,” so special consideration is necessary for sheep. Extra-label drug use is allowed in animals under the supervision of a veterinarian; and one vet told me they tend to use a default withdrawal time of a month for slaughter animals. I am only using it on breeding animals which are staying here.

I read about a farm which experimented with injecting LA200 versus this DMSO delivery method in their flock, and found that the DMSO version was much more effective in treating foot rot. By golly if I can’t find the site now for reference. But I think their theory was that circulation to the feet just isn’t good, so the antibiotic doesn’t get there when it’s injected IM or SQ. The DMSO delivers it right where it needs to be.

I’d rather get to the bottom of helping the body fight hoof rot on its own via proper nutrition and good genetics, but this is a nice treatment when that doesn’t work. Hoof rot makes for uncomfortable existence, and sheep affected badly will spend a great deal of time walking on their knees to take the pressure off their sore feet. So for me, medicating is well worth it if they can walk pain-free. There is nothing better than seeing the whole group stride across the pasture with no hesitancy or favoring any feet.