Every herdsman should know how to trim feet. Even if your dairy owner has an off-farm specialist come to the dairy to do routine foot trimming, you will become a much better, professional herdsman if you learn how to trim feet. These are the reasons why:
• The more you know about the cow’s foot, the more you will understand the importance of foot care to cow productivity.
• Lame cows are sick cows; correct this health problem immediately rather than waiting several days till the foot trimmer comes. Lame cows produce less milk, suffer from pain and become chronic problems when lameness is not attacked immediately.
• Preventive foot trimming prevents lameness when done correctly. Incorrect preventive foot trimming causes lameness.
• You will become more valuable to your dairy and put yourself in a better position to earn more money because you understand foot trimming principles and are willing to work on feet.
Preventive foot trimming
The need to trim a cow’s feet is like the need for us to trim our finger nails. Hoof wall continues to grow slowly every day. Depending upon the walking surface, cows may wear down their hoof walls. Or in some cases, hoof growth accelerates and changes the “weight-bearing surface” of the foot. When this happens, the bone deep inside the hoof changes its position, puts pressure on the sole of the foot and causes pain and an abscess. So most foot trimming specialists recommend trimming feet at least one time per year, usually at dry-off. This guarantees that the foot is “reshaped” so that the cow walks through the first months of calving stress and high milk production with minimal risk for lameness.
Follow this 3-step process to trim the rear feet preventively:
1. Start with the inside claw; measure the length of the toe from the hair line down. If it is longer than 3 inches, cut it to shorten it to the 3-inch length. You can use your fingers to determine the approximate 3-inch length. Cut the toe with a foot nipper or foot trimming clipper.
2. Now view the inside claw from the bottom. Use a grinder or a foot clipper to make the sole surface flat. This is the step during which you may find a potential lameness problem because you will now view the sole and white line (see the next section). Some cows have claws that do not need to be shortened or flattened; if this is the case, DO NOT trim that claw. Inexperienced foot trimmers want to trim every claw of every foot of every cow…this can CAUSE lameness!
3. Now move to the outside claw. With your hand positioned under the front of the foot, hold the outside claw even with the inside claw that you’ve just trimmed. Shorten the toe length of the outside claw equal to the inside claw that you’ve already worked on. Then, flatten the sole of the outside claw just like you did to the inside claw. Again, if there is claw damage, follow the guidelines to treat the exact lameness condition described in the next section.
For front feet the trimming process is exactly the same except that you start on the outside claw or toe first and trim it as in steps 1 & 2. This is because the greatest weight-bearing surface on the back legs is the inside claw or toe; the greatest weight-bearing surface on front legs is the outside claw.
Now watch the cow as she walks away from the chute. You should see a cow walking properly with better angle of the foot relative to the leg. Good foot trimming results in cows walking normal.
Lameness is a symptom, not a diagnosis. So herdsmen need to lift the cow’s foot to examine it to determine the exact cause of the lameness. There are five separate causes for why a cow becomes lame. Each cause requires a different treatment protocol, so it is important to examine the foot and determine the cause of lameness before you initiate treatment. Let’s review the symptoms, diagnosis and general treatments for each cause of lameness.
Cause: a bacterial infection of the foot that causes swelling in the soft tissue of the foot.
• Foot is swollen; when examining the tissue between the claws, it is ruptured and broken open.
• Rectal temperature may be elevated 1 - 2 degrees.
• Systemic antibiotics (consult with your owner and veterinarian to determine the exact antibiotic and dose).
• It is not necessary to apply a bandage to the foot; some veterinarians recommend topical application of an antiseptic to the ruptured area between the claws.
Cause: infectious organism that cause superficial irritation of the heel tissue of
• Cow is lame on one foot; may be very obvious lameness or very subtle.
• When examining the foot, rough hairy-like tissue appears to be growing out of the heel part of the hoof.
• Clean the affected area with water and disinfectant soap.
• Apply tetracycline powder on a gauze pad over the lesion and bandage the foot. Remove the bandage in 3 - 5 days (other products may be available, consult with your owner and veterinarian).
Cause: Movement of the deep pedal bone inside the foot put pressure on surrounding tissue. This causes damage and death to tissue, which produces sterile pus and liquid that builds up inside the foot, causing pain and lameness.
• Cow is lame on one foot; there is no swelling in the foot.
• A thin layer of sole tissue is removed from each claw. The area of the abscess is identified as a “black spot”. This black spot is opened to reveal pus which oozes or flow out of the black spot.
• Open the affected area; establish drainage.
• Usually no other treatment is necessary; occasionally it is necessary to bandage the foot if there is a chance that manure or debris could enter and contaminate the open abscess.
• Systemic antibiotics are usually not necessary.
Cause: Small blood vessels in the foot rupture, allowing blood to accumulate in “pockets” at the white line of the foot. These pockets produce pressure on surrounding tissue, damaging it such that foot tissue dies. All this causes pain and lameness.
• Cow is lame; there is no swelling in the foot.
• A thin layer of sole tissue is removed from each claw. Spots of blood, pus or dead tissue are seen in the area of the white line of the hoof.
• Remove all dead tissue on the affected area of the foot. Topical antibiotic treatment and bandage application may be necessary.
• Apply a block to the “good” claw so that the cow’s weight bearing is on the good claw, allowing the damaged claw to heal. Re-examine the foot in 5 - 7 days to determine status of recuperation, additional trimming that might be necessary, or block removal.
INJURY OR CLAW OVERGROWTH:
• Greater than 95% of all lameness results from lesions in the foot. Do not assume leg injury, dislocation or upper leg problems until the foot is examined and no lesions are found there.
• Injury, penetration of foreign objects into the foot tissue or claw overgrowth can cause lameness.
• Lameness with no apparent lesions described above. Applying pressure to a spot or portion of a claw may generate a pain reflex by the cow.
• Overgrowth of claw tissue is apparent.
• Corrective trimming if claw overgrowth or bad foot conformation is part of the problem.
• Anti-inflammatory medication as necessary (refer to treatment protocols as developed by your owner and veterinarian).
To summarize, herdsmen need to know how to trim feet. Never treat a lame cow until you’ve examined the foot and arrived at a diagnosis. Work with your owner and veterinarian to understand and apply treatment protocols specific for the cause of lameness. Talk with your off-farm foot trimming specialist to learn about proper preventive foot care. EL