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12,000 hooves: Trim them all at once, twice per year

PD Editor Walt Cooley Published on 19 November 2009

top25

This article was #4 in PDmag's Top 25 most-well read articles in 2010.

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Summary: About 12 people meet at Mountain View Dairy in Delta, Utah, twice a year. Their goal? To trim the hooves of the farm’s 3,000 dairy cows. The hoof trimmers have participated in this bi-annual working vacation since 2003, and they have seen many herd health benefits.

Because this article was so popular, we asked Richard Weingart of the Hoof Trimmers Association a follow-up question:

Q. Why are producers more interested in hoof health and the role of their hoof trimmer this year? Will it continue in 2011?
A
.
2010 has been a rebuilding year for dairy producers. A lot of them had to let hoof care slide the previous year for lack of funds. I think the result was they discovered what it cost them to skip trimming. Either way costs money, and foregoing a maintenance trim ends up costing way more than doing it. By the time a cow needs therapeutic trimming – a block, a wrap, medication, etc. – the better part of the loss has already occurred. So this year they have tried to catch up, plus prepare for the next downturn. Hoof trimming is in high demand at the moment. Will it continue in 2011? I fervently hope so for the sake of the cows, the owners and the trimmers. It's easier on everyone to keep up than to catch up. And cheaper too.
—Richard Weingart, President, Hoof Trimmers Association

Click a link below to read other articles in the Top 25:

Do you know the new calf and heifer-raising standards? http://bit.ly/PDTop25_5
India: The world’s largest milk producer: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_6
Margin outlook not as strong for 2011: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_7 Carcass composting project unearthed in California: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_8
5 things I can't do without: Leon Leavitt: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_9
CityBoy cartoon Issue 18 2008: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_10
Students obtain “hands-on” experience through summer dairy program: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_11
Sorghum: An economical forage for dairy producers http://bit.ly/PDTop25_12
Running out of time: U.S. must become a global dairy supplier http://bit.ly/PDTop25_13
Should I exit the dairy industry? http://bit.ly/PDTop25_14
Crossbreeding study participants share observations, opinions: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_15
Every herd has metritis: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_16
World Dairy Expo video: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_17
5 Things I can't do without: Darin Dykstra: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_18
Let's agree on a few things about MPCs: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_19
Oregon State cows monitored 24-7: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_20
Brubakers find many benefits with methane digester: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_21
How to adjust rations to incorporate BMR corn silage: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_22
Time to reclaim animal well-being as our issue: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_23
3 open minutes with Doug Maddox and Gary Genske: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_24
3 open minutes with David Martosko of HumaneWatch: http://bit.ly/PDTop25_25

ARTICLE

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What have large-herd dairy producers John and Maria Nye of Delta, Utah, found effective in improving herd health? Whole-herd hoof trimming – all at once, twice each year.

Nearly a dozen hoof trimmers meet at Nye’s 3,000-cow dairy in October and May. Regardless of inclement weather or equipment breakdowns, they work 8-or-more-hour days for a week to trim every cow in the herd – milking, dry or otherwise.

“It’s a regular way of getting it done. They show up, and you have no choice. Everybody’s going to get done,” John says. “When we had a hoof trimmer that wandered through once per week, first they would start with the cripple cows, then maybe dry cows, then it ended up nothing else got done before he had to leave.”

Vermont hoof trimmer Doug Oosterman had been the Nyes’ hoof trimmer for years when the Nyes’ dairy was located in Litchfield County, Connecticut. When the dairy moved to Utah in 1995, the Nyes began using a local trimmer. However, Oosterman and Richard Weingart, Maria’s brother, who is a hoof trimmer from North Franklin, Connecticut, would occasionally visit and work with the local trimmer. The dairy installed its own right-tilt trimming chute for these visits. Weingart says trimming sessions became more and more work.

Then in 2003 John asked if it would be possible to trim the entire herd all at once. Since then Mountain View Dairy has used biannual whole-herd trimming as a way to improve hoof health.

“The first time we came here they had about 1,300 cows for us to trim,” Weingart says. “We put on 257 blocks. That’s a lot. Two years ago, before they expanded, we trimmed 1,500 and we put on eight blocks in the whole herd. Now I see a lot more ambulatory cows and fewer lameness issues.”

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Weingart invites other trimmers he’s met through the Hoof Trimmers Association to come with him to Nyes for the week. This past October, 11 trimmers from nine different states, including Virginia, Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts and North Carolina, showed up to trim. Weingart, who will become the association’s president in February, says the week in Utah is a good time to catch up and do some informal Association business.

“The profession of hoof trimming is attractive to people who have an independent spirit,” Weingart says. “I’m fortunate to have friends I’ve met through the association whom I can call on for this. It helps my family, plus it gives us a reason to get together between conferences. It’s a working vacation.”

The mini-convention of hoof trimmers has also caught the attention of hoof health companies. Occasionally the trimmers receive prototype trimming blades or other equipment to try out before the products are commercially marketed.

“One advantage of having all of those different guys here is they all have a little different idea of what works in their part of the country and what might work here,” says Maria Nye, who takes care of herd health. “They’ve experimented at times. They get to try things out that they might not have otherwise done.”

In addition to the biannual trimming, Maria says the dairy uses an automatic footbath that rotates solutions between copper sulfate, formaldehyde or just plain water. Milkers watch for feet problems and report them to Stan Weingart, another of Maria’s brothers, who is on staff full-time at the dairy and does any relief trimming necessary. He records those events in the dairy’s DairyComp records. John and Maria occasionally review the records of cows with chronic hoof problems to determine if culling is necessary. However, John says they rarely sell a cow for foot-related problems.

“Most of what we do for herd health is set up on a weekly basis – vaccinations, dry move, dry-off,” Maria says. “All of those things we can control the timing of on-site. Foot trimming should fit right in there. But when the hoof trimmer would call and say, ‘Can I come Thursday instead of Friday?’ it threw things off. It’s tremendously easier this way.”

The trimmers are paid $7 per head, which is divided equally. Mountain View Dairy provides chutes, supplies, airfare and room and board. John says the total per-cow cost is about $8.50, which is less than the cost he’s been quoted for trimmers to work for him individually.

Using five trimming chutes and the dairy’s hospital pen as a staging area, 11 trimmers can trim an entire pen of cows in less than two hours. Stan arranges the order of trimming. One trimmer pushes cows through the chutes while another records tag numbers. The group used right- and left-tilt table chutes as well as stand-up chutes during the most recent trimming. Anything running through the chute gets trimmed.

“We don’t charge $30 per cow here, but we could justify doing so,” Weingart says. “Prevention is really cheap. This is very low-cost cow maintenance.”

John says during the trimmers’ most recent visit he noticed a neighbor’s beef cow had wandered off pasture and found its way onto the dairy and mingled with his cows. Later when he went to put the cow back, it too had been trimmed.

“If we have one complaint, it’s that they will do everything,” Maria says. “If a two-headed cow with five feet walks into the pen, they’ll run her through the chute and get her done. We try to cull ahead of the trim date.”

Regardless, John says he can testify of the economic benefit of whole-herd biannual trimming. He says the benefits outweigh the costs of housing, feeding and entertaining the trimmers. Each day John’s father, Jeff Nye, Sr., a former Connecticut extension dairy agent, provides the trimmers with a homemade lunch and dinner. The warm meal is a welcome relief from the chilly 40-degree windy fall weather and blowing dust. John says the group’s dedication and camaraderie is impressive. He notes that even Cornell veterinarian Chuck Guard spent part of his vacation time trimming with the group.

“Here is a guy with an advanced education. He could sit in a laboratory at Cornell if he wants to,” John says. “But he’s out there in the freezing cold, working his tail off and having a good time.” The Nyes enjoy the week-long interaction with so many diverse and interesting personalities.

“It’s always fun when you see their headlights coming in. It’s like Homecoming Week,” John says. “When you see their tail lights and know the last door on the airplane has been slammed and they are gone it is sort of a relief. You can get back to normal.”

Although the Nyes’ trimming program may be a bit abnormal, the Nyes aren’t bothered by it as long as it continues to be effective.

“Anyone who comes to work on our cows says that nowhere do they find better locomotion,” John says. “This way everybody gets a pedicure, and you know they got done.” PD

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