Disclaimer: This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to endorse any product.
Faulty nutrition isn’t the only factor in hoof-quality problems, but it’s a big player.
While genetics and faulty care are also involved, adequate nutrition can make the difference between the hoof with a potential for problems, and one that actually develops them. The results will speak for themselves.
The hoof’s nutritional needs are high because it is a very active tissue that is constantly growing and restructuring. Although trim and genetics are important factors, good nutrition also plays a vital role in hoof health, with protein, fats, and minerals being the building blocks of healthy hoof nutrition.
Inadequate protein, or a deficiency in the essential amino acid methionine, limits the ability to produce the hoof wall's structural protein known as keratin. Also necessary for keratin production are vitamin B6 and folic acid. In addition, biotin has also been shown to be important for both good growth and quality, and Lysine is an often deficient amino acid that is very important in hoof protein.
Often overlooked, fat is also very important to hoof health and integrity. Various fats and waxes fill the spaces between the keratinocytes. They give the outer layer of a healthy hoof a naturally slick feel and shine. Fat plays a very important role as the “cement” that holds cells together by forming protective seals that keep moisture outside the hoof, and moisture from the internal living structures from escaping.
Of the potential nutritional causes of poor hoof quality, trace mineral deficiencies are the most common. To correct this, supplements with balanced levels of copper and zinc in a supplement with low or zero levels of manganese and iron, which can compete for absorption of those minerals.
Zinc is required for every step of cell activity in the hoof structure, as well as for forming the structural protein of the hoof wall. Zinc is also the most commonly deficient mineral in the United States and around the world. Studies have confirmed that low zinc status results in slow hoof growth, weak connections, thin walls and weak horns.
Copper is also required for enzymes that form the reinforcing protein cross-linkages in hoof tissue. Hoof issues linked to copper deficiency include cracks, sole hemorrhages, abscesses, thrush and laminitis.
Zinc and copper together also play a key role in protecting the fatty layers of the hoof wall. Hooves, like fingernails, have a shine and slippery feel when healthy. This comes from the fats incorporated in their outer structure that keep environmental moisture out but critical tissue moisture in. Zinc and copper are essential components of the antioxidant enzymes that protect those fats.