Hoof trimming takes training and practice
It’s a cold day in California’s San Joaquin Valley, and Jan Shearer is bundled up to spend the day outside, trimming the hooves of dairy cows.
At a dairy near Hanford, Shearer demonstrates to eight farm employees how to properly trim a cow’s hoof. Grasping the animal’s foot, he explains in Spanish about the importance of not overtrimming.
“It may be the greatest error made when it comes to foot care,” says Shearer, professor and dairy Extension veterinary specialist at Iowa State University. “It takes training, time to learn, and practice. It may seem simple, but once you get the knife in your hand, it’s more complicated than it looks.”
Shearer is here as part of the Master Hoof Care Technician Program he developed several years ago with colleagues Sarel van Amstel and Adrian Gonzalez. It’s a three-day school where Shearer trains dairy workers to properly trim cow hooves and evaluate lameness.
Two local practices, Mill Creek Veterinary Services and Valley Veterinarians, have arranged this week’s program. The dairies involved have paid $500 per employee for the opportunity to have them learn from Shearer.
The time and expense are worth it, since lameness is one of the most costly diseases among dairy cows.
|Veterinary specialist Jan Shearer teaches dairy workers about hoof trimming in the Master Hoof Care Technician Program.
“Animals that are lame suffer without regular or timely care,” Shearer says. “That’s part of the reason for this course. We train these folks properly, so they can minimize pain and problems and make a more comfortable environment for the cow.”
For Shearer, there’s an added element to the hoof-trimming school, which has been held in several states.
“Animal welfare is such an important part of our industry today,” Shearer says. “Lameness is an important part of that, so having a foot-care program on a dairy, whether with outside trimmers or on-farm employees, is absolutely essential.”
One goal of the school is to teach dairy workers how to reduce any hoof overgrowth, a contributor to lameness. Shearer also instructs participants to create balance between the weight-bearing surfaces of the claw. That means trimming the surface flat so that both claws are stable.
Shearer advises workers against overly aggressive hoof trimming. “A lot of blood raises a red flag,” he says. “Invariably, however, there will be some bleeding because we’re removing damaged or diseased tissue, and to do that, we’ve got to get right up next to healthy tissue.”
The school also trains participants to understand the names of various foot disorders and how to treat them.
The frequency of hoof trimming “has to be determined farm to farm, region to region,” Shearer says. “There is no one size that fits all. It also depends on the wear on cows’ claws and the distance they may typically walk on concrete.”
Shearer encourages dairy producers to contact him about developing a cow foot-care program to fit their dairy and employee needs.
A HANDLE ON HOOF CARE
Rick Lundquist, a dairy nutrition and management consultant, offers these tips to reduce lameness in dairy cows:
- Keep cows comfortable with good heat abatement, such as fans and sprinklers.
- Minimize cow standing time by providing clean and comfortable freestalls or bedding areas.
- Minimize walking and standing on concrete. Install rubber mats over concrete in walking lanes and behind the feed alley.
- Minimize time spent in wet and muddy areas and keep alleyways clean.
- Identify lame cows in the early stages and have a regular hoof trimming program in place.
- Use a footbath, but only if it is cleaned and changed frequently.
- Feed a well-balanced diet with adequate forage and fiber length.
- Feed a proven organic zinc product to increase hoof hardness.
- “The most important nutritional consideration is to provide a well-blended total mixed ration [TMR] that prevents feed sorting,” Lundquist says. “Feed sorting contributes to more nutritional lameness than any other factor in TMR-fed herds.”
- Keep the moisture content of the TMR high enough to effectively blend all ingredients. Don’t feed straw or long hay in the TMR and expect it to help if it doesn’t stay blended. Increased feeding frequency also helps to reduce sorting.
HOOF TRIMMING GOES DIGITAL
You can add hoof trimming to the list of jobs where a computer now substitutes for pencil and paper.
|Keith Sather developed Hoof Supervisor "to bring better health to the dairy herd," he says.
Hoof Supervisor is a computerized system that uses specialized software to record and track data about each cow’s hoof-trimming activities and health. The portable, chute-side data recording system “is our effort to bring better health to the dairy herd,” says developer Keith Sather (shown above) of Feed Supervisor Software.
The program uses the concept of hoof zones developed by Jan Shearer of Iowa State University. These hoof zones appear on the touch screen, letting trimmers record where any issues, such as lesions or erosion, might be occurring and how severe they are. Users can choose from a list to find the appropriate diagnosis for a particular problem.
The portable system also allows users to enter and access a cow’s identification number. They can mark if or how the cow was treated previously and when it should be seen again. The system calculates the percentage of cows with and without particular hoof problems to produce a clearer picture of what’s happening in the herd. It also keeps track of the number of cows the user has handled.
The Hoof Supervisor, which was selected as a Top 10 new product at the 2010 World Ag Expo, costs about $6,000. The price includes the touch-screen notebook computer, Windows operating software and the chute mount.
Sather says the computer is a “ruggedized” unit that holds up in hot or cold weather. Its screen is readable in direct sunlight. The system can even take a 4' drop off the chute. Hoof trimmers can operate the computer without removing their gloves.
“When it’s dirty, just spray it off with a hose,” Sather says. “It’s meant to survive in the environment of the hoof trimmer.”