Less than a week ago, more than 150 professional hoof trimmers from across the country gathered in Columbus for the 2002 Hoof Health Conference sponsored by the National Hoof Trimmers Association.
Hoof trimming has changed. Wendell Coppers, a Wisconsin trimmer, felt he was “not very popular” when he started his career 18 years ago. Back then a stool, a couple of knives and a bottle of Coppertox got a trimmer started.
Today a good trimmer is a respected professional who likely has a major investment in cow-friendly chutes, tables and equipment to practice his craft.
These were dedicated guys. They spent three days boning up on (pun intended) the anatomy of the hoof, claw diseases, physical and physiological causes of lameness, the impacts of lameness on reproduction, how to handle cattle efficiently and properly, new trimming methods, efficacy of topical treatments, foot baths and more.
The afternoon was spent at the OSU Dairy trimming feet on live cattle and observing cadaver feet demonstrations (I had to miss that part!)
Top nine. Dr. Chuck Guard, veterinarian and teacher at Cornell’s Ambulatory and Production Medicine Clinic, kicked off the program with the top nine reasons hoof trimmers are willing to get close to cow’s feet all day:
9) The hooves of dairy cows develop abnormal shapes from uneven rates of growth and wear.
8) The hooves of dairy cows grow faster than they wear (sometimes).
7) Because dairymen want us to.
6) We like tools and trucks.
5) To gain satisfaction from beneficial acts – to farmers, to cows.
4) We like self-employment.
3) We like farmers.
2) We like cows.
1) And the number one reason: To make money.
Frankly, observing the hoof trimmers there and listening to several panel discussions, these guys were in it to make money as we all work to support our families, but the other eight reasons were obviously important.
Investing time. As one panelist from Michigan explained, he had been a hoof trimmer for 18 years, but he became a much better trimmer when he invested time in a hoof trimming course.
Another said that he had spent the first 12 years of his career not associating with other trimmers but really started gaining knowledge as he became involved in the association.
The final panel discussion focused on you. Getting dairymen to move from strictly therapeutic trimming to preventive trimming. Preventive trimming was described as trimming every cow at least twice a year during targeted stages of lactation.
Research? It is difficult to do research to compare which strategy is most physiologically and economically beneficial. How do you measure ulcers and other problems that didn’t happen because the hoof received preventive trimming?
One study that tried to get at this was conducted in Sweden where most herds trim once per year. After seeing the results in the herds trimmed twice per year, some of the controls (herds still trimming once per year) dropped out of the study so they could also trim twice per year.
Preliminary data indicate that trimming a heifer before she freshens could be the most “economically beneficial trim of the cows life.”
There was a general consensus that the best way to convince a herdsman of the benefits of a preventive trimming program was to take them to see the feet on a herd that has a good preventive hoof care program. It may cost the same or a bit more than a therapeutic program, and your trimmer should be willing to work up an estimate for you.
As herds move to preventive hoof care, trimmers either have to hire additional help or serve fewer herds to keep the number of cows they trim per year at a manageable level.
Cow vs. time. Panelists were trimming 9,500-12,010 cows per year. It could easily have been a panel of dairy farmers up there as they discussed the challenges of trimming enough cows vs. having enough time (when they could actually stay awake) to spend with their families or on other interests.
If you are on a therapeutic hoof care program (only trim the problems) and don’t care to switch to a preventive trimming approach, do yourself and your trimmer a favor.
As one trimmer noted, “put a good cow through the chute every now and then, so I can remember what they look like!”
(The author is the northeast Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)