It's pedicure day! For cows!
Updated: May 11
Just like we trim our finger nails and toe nails, cows need to have their hooves trimmed. Every Friday, a professional hoof trimmer arrives at our farm to give pedicures to certain cows. Each cow on our dairy gets trimmed at least twice a year.
But why a pedicure?
A cow's hoof grows a little every day just like your nails. These 1400 to 1500 pound cows walk on their " toe nails" (hooves) every day which pretty much wears them down. But, if not properly maintained, some cows will get overgrown toe nails that are painful and uncomfortable to walk on. Or, they don't walk evenly on their feet and one toe grows longer.
Another thing to remember, cows don't take regular baths to wash their toes. They live in a barn or on pasture. That means those toes have to be able to support her weight in slippery conditions, snow, mud, dirt, sand, concrete or wet ares filled with manure. That's why we hire a professional hoof trimmer who looks for more than just beauty and balance. He inspects each hoof for any ulcers, abscesses, warts, or injury. He's an expert and has many tools that aid him in shaping a cow's toes as well as ensuring she has healthy, strong feet.
How do you give a cow a pedicure?
We sort cows for a routine pedicure or cows that may be limping and need special attention into a holding area. The hoof trimmer guides each cow into a hoof trimming chute. Let's be honest. Cows don't like change in their routine and walking into a narrow chute is new to them. But, the hoof trimmer stays calm and that calms the cow.
Once in the chute, the cow is lifted 6-10 inches by a wide belly strap. This takes the weight off her hooves and allows the trimmer to do his work. He restrains each hoof one at a time. This is important so he can closely inspect her foot without her moving and keeps both of them safe while he uses a special grinder to file the hoof. Just like your dentist has smaller, more specialized tools to inspect your teeth, the hoof trimmer has similar tools to check the toes for abscesses or soft spots. He likes to see a strong, hard shell on the outside of the hoof to protect the softer tissues underneath.
Our hoof trimmer keeps a record of each cow's hoof. If it has any problems, he makes a note and when he rechecks her, he has detailed records.
Once the hoof trimmer has inspected each foot, he lowers the cow back on to her feet, opens the door, and away she goes. It only takes about 6 minutes. She heads back to her pen and goes right back to her regular routine of eating, resting, chewing her cud, pooping, and getting milked.
It takes more than a pedicure to have happy cows
Nope! It's not pink nail polish that makes cows happy! Cows like a comfortable, stress free life. As farmers, we do many things besides trimming their toes to make sure they have happy feet. We add special ingredients to the cow and heifer rations to help them grow strong, healthy toes. We clean their walk alleys to keep away as much manure and bacteria as possible from their feet. The cow pens get scrapped three times a day and heifer pens daily. After the noon milking, the cows walk through a copper sulfate foot bath that kills bacteria and helps to prevent heel warts. We have grooved walkways to help prevent slipping and we provide comfy sand beds that encourage them to "take a load off" and rest their feet.
Good "work boots" is just a part of the job
Cows can't trim their own feet! Or repair their own sore foot. They rely on dairy farmers to make sure they have excellent "work boots" every day. We devote our day to making our cows happy and healthy. If that means we need to hire a professional hoof trimmer to give our gals a pedicure, we'll do it. We know that healthy, happy cows are a lot less work to manage and they produce more milk. That means more delicious dairy products for you to enjoy!