Cow Health – Caring for Their Hooves

By Katharine Nye

The list of things cows need is long: feed, water, medicine (if they’re sick), ear tags, fluffy bedding, pedicures….wait, what?  You’re probably thinking that I typed that wrong.  Cows don’t get pedicures. Right? Actually, my typing skills are intact.  We refer to cows’ feet as hooves, and the professionals who take care of them are called hooftrimmers.  Or, if you prefer, bovine podiatrists.  But hooftrimmers is more common.

Now, you may be wondering why in the world cows’ hooves need to be cared for.  Cows can be tricky creatures.  A diet that is too rich, Stepping on a rock the wrong way, or experiencing difficulty during birth can all lead to hoof problems.  Most often, when a cow is transitioning – preparing to calve, or recovering after calving – is when hoof troubles arise.  Switching feed, if done incorrectly, can bother a cow’s rumen, and cause all kinds of problems, including laminitis.  Laminitis is the most common term used for cows with lameness.

So How is it Done?

Usually a hooftrimmer has a trailer, called a rig, and his own tools to care for hooves. Rig types vary, but essentially what happens is a cow walks down an alley that leads to the rig.  She steps into it, her head is stabilized, rubber grips come up under her belly and chest, and she is gently tilted on her side.  Cows are large animals and gaining access to their hooves is not always easy.  Stationary, elevated, and on her side ensures a safe environment for both cow and trimmer, and gives the trimmer easy access to see what he is dealing with.  With his main tools, nippers, a grinder and a hoof knife (think extreme pedicure kit), he can gently trim down and file a cow’s hooves to ensure she walks properly and deal with any infections or warts that he may spot.  The cow is then lowered, the doors of the rig open, and she is off on her way.

Cow Hooftrimming

Hooftrimmer at Work

Cow Hoof

Evaluating the Hoof

The way that dairies care for their cows’ hooves varies.  Most often, a hooftrimmer visits a client about one to two times per year to trim hooves, diagnose hoof problems, and consult with the dairy owners.  Sometimes dairies have an in-house hooftrimmer or two, which is especially useful because a lot of problems can start with the hooves – if a cow can’t walk, she can’t eat, and if she can’t eat, everything goes downhill quickly.  Having four stomachs is tough! Having someone there every day, walking corrals and keeping an eye on hoof health, is an incredible benefit to both cows and people.

How does Mountain View Dairy do it? 

Each spring and fall, twelve individuals from eight states and two countries arrive on Mountain View Dairy with an incredible amount of gear in tow.  For one week straight, our twelve hooftrimmers work long, hard hours to make sure that each of our 3,500 animals on site receives a full trim and attention to any other issues they may have.  The week is full of camaraderie, and our eclectic group shares stories and discusses new techniques. While exhausting for everyone, this has turned out to be the best way to care for our herd’s hooves.  It’s a long week, but the quality of our trimmers and the incredible care they take of cows is more than worth it.  It’s unconventional, but sometimes those are the best ways to get things done!

Mountain View Dairy - Hoof Trimming

The Hooftrimming Crew at Mountain View Dairy

For a detailed account of how it’s done at Mountain View Dairy, read the article the Progressive Dairyman.

Hoof health is an important aspect of proper dairy cattle care, and ensuring that each cow receives a high-quality pedicure (albeit without the polish!) helps to safeguard a cow’s overall health and happiness.

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