An engineering fracture mechanics approach was applied to the analysis of the fracture resistance of equine hoof-wall. The relationship between fracture toughness and the morphological organization of the keratin hoof tissue was investigated. Fracture toughness was evaluated using the J-integral analysis method which employs the compact tension test geometry. Tensile tests were also conducted to evaluate the effect of the morphological organization on the stress-strain behaviour. Hoof-wall has greatest fracture resistance for cracks running proximally, parallel to the tubular component of the wall keratin. For fully hydrated material tested in this direction the mean critical J-integral value at failure was 1.19 X 10(4)J m-2. This was nearly three times greater than the value determined for the weakest orientation, in which the crack ran parallel to the material between the tubules. The lower fracture toughness of the intertubular material dominates the fracture behaviour of this tissue. The tubular components of the wall appear to reinforce against fracture along the weak plane and the entire wall organization provides the mechanical capability for limiting and controlling fracture in this tissue.

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