Many people are familiar with beef cows, and they think, “Beef cows never get their feet trimmed, so why do dairy cows!?” Well, it’s because dairy animals live a very different life than beef animals and their genetic makeup is different.
Depending on the breeding, some dairy cattle have a better hoof than others, so some need trimming more than others. Another consideration is the type of feed that the animal recieves. Some feeds promote faster growth than others. Some feeds promote firmer hooves than others. There is a big difference!
Most all horses are raised with getting their hooves trimmed regularly. Most dogs are raised from puppy days to have their nails clipped. So, if you have a heifer, practice picking up her feet and working on them. A little practice at a young age will make for a very easy cow to deal with as she ages. If you have bought a mature cow, start slowly and just work on picking up her feet comfortably. Then progress to chipping a little off here and there. Then go for the nippers and a full trim! Good luck!
WHY is it important to keep my cow’s hooves trimmed?
- Any bovine is going to weigh several hundred pounds! All of that weight is carried by these four hooves. So, their very life and happiness depends on hoof care.
- Preventing disease: Shallow heels or mis-shapened hooves can encourage growth of disease and encourage problems such as foot rot and hairy warts. An injured foot causes pain, obviously, and your cow will kick at you at milking time (not fun!) saying, “I’m hurt!” She will probably limp, and she might not even want to get up much. This can cause a decrease in milk production and overall health if a cow is not wanting to exercise or work.
WHEN to trim?
- The benefit of trimming your own cow using our method is that you can trim at any time. Commercial hoof trimmers lift the cow off the ground (either on her side, very traumatic OR standing up, but still in a big chute and very physical) and this is very stressful for the cow, so should only be done at certain stages in life. The way we trim, most cows and heifers barely notice anything is happening, as long as they’re trained to be tied with a halter.
- We do not keep a regular schedule on trimming. When a cow’s hooves are getting long or starting to curl, we trim. We do like to trim heifers at about 4-6 months old to make sure their hooves are developing properly.
- Doing hoof trimming by hand is very labor intensive and is used only because we have very few animals and we like to keep up on trimming. Finding a reputable “cattle” hoof trimmer that lives in your area and is available when you need them can be hard to find!
- Evaluate your cow’s hooves often:
- If they start to grow long, you need to trim asap. The blood vessels build outward with the hoof, so the longer you wait, the more traumatic the trimming will become (because then you have to just trim off a little bit, wait until that part has firmed up, then trim off some more, until you are back to where the cow should be.)
- If the hooves start to crack, you need to trim asap. A small crack can become a major crack if left unattended. Once trimmed, you should also try to find out why your cow’s hoof is cracking. Maybe adding a biotin or zinc supplement can firm up the hoof to prevent future cracking.
- If the cow starts limping, investigate asap! The limp could be caused by foot rot, an abcess, puncture, etc. Those can all be dealt with accordingly. Also, the hoof could have built up a “false pad” which is like a firm cushion covering the bottom of the hoof, like a giant callous. This prevents the real hoof from breathing and wearing regularly and can cause pain for the cow. This can be cut out easily during hoof trimming and makes the cow very happy!
- If you are getting ready for a SHOW or APPRAISAL or PICTURING your cow… A little trimming can go a long way! (Judges always seem to notice if the hooves are less than ideal, because the angle of the hoof can dramatically change leg set and rump structure!)
Notice in the picture on the left, how the hoof is longer than it is tall. The toes are starting to grow a little longer than they should.
The goal: to stand more on her toes so the hoof wears naturally, reducing the need for trimming. Ideally, you want to see more “heel” on an animal than many of them have.
WHAT you will need:
- Halter and rope to secure animal.
- Gloves and thick work pants for safety.
- Chisel and Mallet are for adult cows. Not needed for heifers.
- www.enasco.com/farmandranch is an excellent place to find all these tools!
Step one: Confine animal. If two people are present, one person can lift the front hoof while the other person cleans and trims. Otherwise, one person can put the hoof between their legs and have both hands free for trimming.
Step two: Clean the hoof using a hoof pick. Clean between the toes and around the edges. Make sure to clean off as much on the bottom of the hoof as possible. You can scratch back and forth to work down to the base of the hoof. This will clean the hoof and also expose in detail the area you are working with. Work out any crevices and edges especially well.
Step three: Once the foot is scraped clean, you will notice a ridge around the edge of the hoof. Run your finger across the hoof and you will notice around the edge it is longer. This is an initial boundary for cutting.
The red lines indicate where the hoof wall is to be trimmed. The yellow spots indicate the end of the hooves. Both of these areas can be trimmed off. Note that the hoof ends are rounded and smooth. Remember: leave the heel alone. Notice there are no markings in that area. Rarely does a dairy cow have “too much” heel.
Step four: Using a pair of nippers, trim around the bottom of the hoof, going up about half way on the edges of either hoof and down to the toe. Only nip off a little at a time! Slowly keep nipping to shape the hoof. (For example, on this 4 mo. old heifer, we nipped about 1 cm. from the front tip and 1/2 cm around the edges.) If at any time you cut and reach blood: STOP! And do not trim down any further. Try to even off the edges around that area without cutting any deeper.
You can get the bottom of the hoof flat and even by using a hoof knife or the chisel to peel off little layers at a time.
If you compare the photo to the right to the photo just above it, you can see that all we did was trim around the edges and scrape the bottom of the hoof to level it out. You will have to remove the most hoof from the front tips of the hoof and try to cut back on the bottom side of the hoof from the tip back a little to try to get that area shortened so she will walk more on her toes and less on her heel.
You can see in the picture (left) that the inner toe has been trimmed and the left toe has not been trimmed (it will be trimmed next and is just photographed here to show how much was cut off the end). On this heifer, we were able to take off quite a bit and did not hit blood. Each animal varies, though, as you will learn as you trim the same cows again.
To give a prettier trim, you can also use a rasp to file off the old hoof aroound the tip area.
Here is a cow who has a good set of hooves:
LAST STEP: Take your animal on a walk and have someone else evaluate her:
- First, is she limping at all? (If so, be more careful next time!)
- Is she walking equal on each hoof? (equal weight distribution!)
- Are all four hooves fairly equal in size and shape? (If not, see which hooves need adjustment and trim them a little more to try to get each hoof to look comparable.)
(Someone asked about the difference between trimming a cow versus a horse. A cow does not have a frog, and the heel is almost never trimmed. Also, because of the two separate toes, a rasp/file does not work as well. The toes wiggle too much, whereas a horse has one hoof and is more stable with a file.)
FOR REAR HOOVES: Cows are fairly content letting you hold up their front legs. Rear legs are definitely another story!!
- For young heifers, you can have one person lift the leg and hold onto the leg with one hand behind the hock and one hand around the ankle. The second person can do the trimming just like you would do for the front legs. BE CAREFUL not to get kicked!
- For older cows, you can start by putting down a thick scrap of plywood. Get the cow to put a foot on the board and then instead of nippers, you can use a chisel and rubber mallet. Similar to the nippers, slowly chip off around the edges at a 45 to 90 degree angle to cut off the bottom 1/2 cm or so of hoof wall. When you’ve done as much as you can, you’re done….
- Unless you are brave and want to try lifting the hoof. Some cows do just fine! If you can lift the hoof, you can clean off the pad and trim better around the toe and on the bottom of the hoof to get it much more level.
- Take your time and if the cow gets fussy, set her leg down for a few seconds, reassure her, pet her on her rump and legs and try again. Hopefully, each try will be easier and each trim will be easier!
((Above) This cow was owned by some friends of ours and Jay is trying to slowly cut back on the toes to bring them back to normal length. Notice above how much toe Jay has removed on the foot in comparison with the other hoof, not yet done. He was luckily able to chip back fairly far, but not all cows can handle the extra trimming. Some start bleeding right out at the edge, which is why very gradual steps are important. Really, this cow’s hooves should have been trimmed sooner.)
STUDY OF A COW:
This cow was born and raised on a commerical dairy. They fed a very “hot” ration, including free choice distillers grains, silage, and grain with not much hay or pasture. Her knees and hocks were swollen up when she was purchased by our friends as a second calf two year old. They were very happy to take her to their farm and rehabilitate her. With improved diet, pasture, and the love of these two farmers, all her swelling went away, she increased in milk production, and she has had numerous healthy calves for them. Notice how long the feet are and especially the back foot that is hidden by the one in front. See how the pasterns almost touch the ground!? Not good! By maintaining her feet (trimmed around every 6 months) this cow now has good feet to support her weight and her condition is much improved!
HIRING A HOOF TRIMMER:
- Try to find someone that has been recommended by numerous people. Be very wary, as one bad trim can make your cow lame for a long time!
- Some say to trim late in lactation so as to not affect milk production. Another opinion is to trim fresh cows and bred heifers.
- Try to see the person in action before the trim your cows (maybe at a neighboring dairy farm)
- Find out what they charge. Usually, a cow is no more than $25 for a trim. May cost extra if the hoof is wrapped or blocked for special treatment.
- Try to avoid or limit use of grinders. There is a very fine line between taking off enough hoof and taking off too much hoof. Because grinders move so fast, it really takes an expert to use one without trimming off too much hoof. If the trimmer is willing, ask him to please not use a grinder the first trim. If you have high confidence in the trimmer, then you can go from there as to if you think a grinder is needed.
- Make sure the hoof trimmer has lots of lighting to work with, outdoors is ideal.