Just like we have the need to trim our finger nails, cows need to have their hooves trimmed. The hoof wall slowly grows everyday and if not properly maintained, it can cause the cow pain and discomfort. Now, I know what you might be thinking, “My husband hasn’t trimmed his toenails since last fall, and he gets around just fine”. It is not just over-grown nails we are looking for when we trim hooves. We want to make sure the hoof is healthy, strong, in perfect shape and free of any warts, abscesses or other problems. Hooves are much more important to cows than you may think; they are like shoes or work boots to them. They need to be maintained in order for the cow to get around and remain happy. Think about it, these four hooves have to hold the weight of a 1500 pound animal every day. The hooves have to be able to rough it through snow, mud, sand particles, dirt, hills and concrete. They get exposed to quite a bit, so for the cow’s well-being experts recommend trimming hooves at least once per year. Lame cows and problem hooves can be avoided with routine check-ups and well maintained barns.
On our farm, we trim a cow’s hooves twice per year or as necessary. We have over 500 cows and they cannot all be trimmed in one day, so we trim 30-40 cows every Wednesday. My husband knows the basics of hoof care, but he is no expert nor do we own a proper chute to do the trimming in. We actually bring in an expert, a professional hoof trimmer, to take care of the cow hooves for us. Bet you didn’t know that there are people who “bring home the bacon” by traveling to different dairy farms and trimming hooves all day!
Here is how it works:
The first step is to get the cow into the chute. Not all cows are excited about entering the chute; it can be a bit scary if they have never been trimmed before or had a bad experience the last time. I suppose it is similar to having your teeth cleaned; some people love it and others dread it. We try to keep the cows calm and persuade them into the chute, but it is sometimes necessary to give them a little poke or zap in the butt to get them moving.
Once in the chute, the cow is lifted up underneath her belly by two, large belts. This takes the weight off of her hooves and allows the trimmer to do his work. He restrains one hoof at a time and uses a grinder to file and trim the hoof. The grinder is basically a giant, mechanical nail file that quickly gets the hoof in tip-top shape.
After the initial maintenance trim, the trimmer examines the hoof for any abnormalities or soft spots. If all looks well, he will move on to the next hoof and before you know it, the cow is done and heading back to her pen to do cow things. You know, eating, pooping, chewing cud and what not.
Once in a while, there will be a cow with a sore foot. She is usually identified due to a limp or abnormal looking hoof. This past Wednesday, we noticed our girl, 1020 or Mara, was limping on her rear leg and had our hoof trimmer look at her right away. She had an abscess that needed to be opened up, cleaned and wrapped.
This abscess was likely caused by pressure on the sole of the hoof due to accelerated hoof growth and/or a change in the weight-bearing surface of the hoof. Every cow is different and sometimes these things just happen. We got 1020 all fixed up and moved her to a pen in the hospital barn near the milking parlor; we want to keep her off her feet for a couple of weeks. She will go in for a check-up in two weeks.
Hoof care is more than just routine trimming. It is also necessary that we regularly run a foot bath of copper sulfate for the cows. This foot bath kills bacteria and prevents warts on the hooves. All the cows have to do is walk through it on their way back from the milking parlor! We also make sure we keep pens clean and that all walking surfaces are smooth and easy to walk on. Cow comfort such as well-groomed, comfortable stalls and cool temperatures that encourage cows to lay down and get off their feet for a bit is also important. The more comfortable we can make a cow, the happier she will be and more milk she will produce! Providing a cow with a good set of “work boots” and a comfortable place to relax is vital for a productive and profitable dairy farm. Not to mention the good feeling a farmer gets after seeing a happy cow laying down and chewing her cud!