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The Importance Of Hoof Trimming For Cows

A highland cow with hooves due for a trimming.

Updated May 18, 2020

Taking in residents at an animal sanctuary means committing to a high quality of care for their whole lives, protecting them from injury and disease wherever possible. If you take in cows, this includes regular hoof trimming for each of your residents. Cow hooves are always growing, and they can become quite uncomfortable for them to walk on if they aren’t regularly maintained. Unchecked, excess hoof growth could lead to lameness and permanently impaired motion, which could potentially result in the end of the cow’s life.

When To Trim A Cow’s Hooves

Typically, hoof trimming on an adult cow should be performed every six months (younger cows typically should not have their hooves trimmed until regular hoof maintenance is recommended by your veterinarian). However, some cows (or their living conditions) may require more frequent trimming than twice a year, including:

  • Older cows
  • Residents with impaired mobility or certain health conditions
  • Cows who are suffering from foot rot or hoof abscesses
  • Cows who primarily spend time on softer surfaces
  • Unintuitively, cows who primarily spend time on harder surfaces may also need their hooves trimmed more frequently, in order to keep their feet more comfortable

Due to all the different variables involved in hoof length, you should have your veterinarian or a professional farrier check each cow’s hooves at least once every 6 months and follow their care advice. Cows can also develop cracks in their hooves that must be immediately managed, because significantly splitting a hoof can be incredibly painful and can require a lengthy recovery process.

Get An Expert

You must either have a professional hoof trimmer or qualified veterinarian perform cow hoof trimming regularly at your sanctuary. A veterinarian, while likely quite capable of trimming cow hooves, will most likely need to use ropes and/ or sedation to access the bottom of a cow’s feet, and both come with risks. Attempting to trim a cow’s hoof is very different than that of goats or sheep, and could cause significant harm if performed incorrectly, either to the cow or to yourself.

Hoof Trimming Basics

There are a large variety of tools that could be used for trimming hooves, depending on preference and the amount of hoof maintenance required. The trimming procedure should not be painful for the cow, provided that the correct amount of hoof is removed (not cutting into their delicate quick), and the hooves are each leveled appropriately for comfortable walking. Although the process isn’t painful, trimming will certainly not be their favorite activity!

Though a professional farrier should have all the necessary equipment to safely restrain and trim cow hooves,  it’s ideal to invest in a cow chute for all of your cow care needs. The chute will help safely move the cows into the farrier’s restraint system and will come in handy during other times when you must restrain them for treatment or a veterinary examination.  Certain cows may never be comfortable with human handling due to a traumatic history, and even relatively calm cows can get quickly stressed out by routine maintenance care. A nervous cow is an unpredictable cow, and they could easily injure humans without meaning to. If you cannot invest in a cow chute currently, you can use gates to create a safe way to move cows into the farrier’s chute.

Video Resource: A Short Look At A “Tilt Table” In Action

This short video (courtesy of Sale Ranch Sanctuary) shows what a professional using “tilt table” looks like, when being used to carefully trim a cow resident’s hooves.

If You Use An Agricultural Trimming Service

If you bring contractors (or even certain agricultural veterinarians) onto your sanctuary grounds who are used to trimming cow hooves in agricultural environments, there’s a risk that they may not treat your resident cows with the same respect and patience that you are committed to providing them with; some contractors are typically expected to get trimming done as quickly as possible rather than as comfortably as possible for the cows! When you contract a new hoof trimming service, make sure to be upfront about how you expect your cows to be treated, and have properly trained staff on-hand to assist with moving the cows through the chute.  Also inquire about their restraint system- tilt tables are often preferred to styles that lift one leg at a time while the cow stands supported with straps.

In addition to handling standards, ask the service about whether they could sterilize their trimming tools prior to using them on your residents’ feet (ideally sterilizing the tools between trimming the hooves of each cow under your care, though this is less important than sterilizing at least once before starting work at your sanctuary). There are certain cow hoof diseases that are contagious, and there is a potential biosecurity risk in the form of disease that could spread from cows in a different environment to your residents via unclean trimming tools.

Hoof Care For Tall Breeds Of Cows

Unfortunately, if you are caring for very tall breeds of cows such as Holsteins, you may have difficulty finding a cow chute that can safely fit them, potentially leaving you solely able to perform hoof maintenance while the cow is under veterinary sedation or with the use of ropes, both of which come with serious risks- especially with older cows. Hoof care is especially crucial for larger cows, but sedation can be a dangerous gamble for any resident, and because of their size, there is also the risk of nerve damage from being down while under sedation. In cases such as these, you will likely need to have a discussion with your veterinarian to weigh their hoof trimming needs against the risks of sedation. Some blood tests could potentially be conducted beforehand to gauge the cow’s risk of adverse reactions to sedation.  It could be helpful to reach out to other sanctuaries in your area- if you all use the same farrier and are having similar issues with tall cows not being able to fit in their chute, you may be able to entice them to acquire a larger chute system, especially if multiple clients express interest.  Similarly, there may be a sanctuary in your area that has already been through this issue with their farrier and has come up with a solution.

Hoof Care For Horned Cows

Just as tall cows may have difficulty fitting in a farrier’s restraint system, cows with large horns may pose a challenge as well.  Though they tend to be adept at turning their heads when fitting through tight spaces, there is a risk of a horn getting caught or broken off.  If you care for cows with large horns, such as Scottish Highlands or Texas Longhorns, discuss trimming possibilities, as well as any additional risks, with your veterinarian and/ or farrier.

SOURCES:

Cattle Care | Farm Sanctuary

Updated on August 15, 2020

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