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Hoof trimming at Dykstra Dairy

Loretta Sorensen Published on 13 March 2009

Published: March 23, 2009 issue of Progressive Dairyman

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Back then, Dykstra Dairy’s herd manager Eric Van Wyk talked with freelance writer Loretta Sorenson about trimming hooves on the operation’s 3,000 cows. The northwest Iowa farm employs a hoof trimmer who spends 80 percent of his time focused on hoof health.

Because this article was so popular, we asked Van Wyk, “What protocols have you changed in your hoof health program since 2009?”

He says, “We now trim all of the cows at both mid-lactation and at dryoff. We were only trimming at dryoff before and were monitoring hooves on a visual basis. We also purchased a new chute that’s made hoof trimming easier on the cows. Plus, we’re able to get cows trimmed more quickly.”

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Lame cattle are in pain, produce less milk, can take longer to conceive and often have to be culled earlier than they should have been.


Add an average $23-per-case treatment cost to this scenario, and it’s no wonder making every effort to keep cows’ feet in good condition is a priority for dairy producers.

Northwest Iowa’s 3,000-head Dykstra Dairy employs its own hoof trimmer to ensure that any sign of lameness is quickly addressed. In the four-row barns, cows stand in freestalls and the alleyways are covered with rubber mats to reduce the impact of cement on the cows’ hooves. Manager Eric Van Wyk says hoof trimming occupies the trimmer five days each week.

“We’ve had him on staff since we started milking here nearly six years ago,” Van Wyk says. “The biggest reason we took the step of employing our own trimmer is to make sure we had someone here to take care of lame cows immediately and not have to wait for a trimmer to get here.”

The dairy’s cows are checked daily to ensure that their feet and hooves are healthy. Van Wyk says illness is generally easy to detect because cows often go off feed and tend to lie down much more than normal if they have hoof problems or other types of health issues.

“If a dairy cow is lame, it has a pretty immediate impact,” he says. “They don’t eat as much, which causes milk production to go down. When they don’t get the right nutrients, body condition starts to deteriorate too, and that can lead to metabolic issues. If all that goes on long enough, the cows become more susceptible to other ailments. If they’re favoring one foot when they walk, they can injure themselves because they’re not walking properly.”

Studies have shown that, compared to cows with sound feet, lame cows show an additional 15 percent weight loss in early lactation. On average, lameness can cost dairy producers $9,000 per year for every 100 cows they own. Those figures are a combination of loss of production, cost of treatment, discarded milk, additional open days and culling replacement costs. Every year, hoof problems affect an average of 30 out of 100 cows.


Dykstra Dairy’s trimmer spends 90 percent of his time trimming cows’ feet. He works with the dairy’s pusher to identify cows that need attention. One problem they constantly watch for is hoof abscess.

“That’s the most common hoof issue we see,” Van Wyk says. “Maintenance trimming is the other biggest condition they monitor.”

Keeping dairy cows on healthy hooves requires a mix of natural characteristics and training. When Dykstra Dairy selected the staff member they intended to train, patience and a keen eye were two traits they believed were important.

“We don’t have a set routine we follow to keep the cows’ hooves trimmed,” Van Wyk says. “I know some dairies trim every cow at mid-lactation. We monitor our cows’ hoof needs on a visual basis. We don’t like to be overly aggressive on maintenance. If we see that a cow’s hooves are getting long, we know that needs to be corrected. We do trim every cow when we dry them off. Other than that, we select the cows we trim through observation.”

Van Wyk says a trimmer with a calm, conscientious demeanor who can work with sometimes uncooperative cows is an asset to any dairy. Making sure that hooves aren’t trimmed too short is as important as not allowing them to get too long.

“There are times when you just can’t get a cow into a chute,” Van Wyk says. “Maybe it was a traumatic experience when she was trimmed before. If a cow is lame, they act differently than when they’re well. You want someone who isn’t overly aggressive working with them.”

While Dykstra Dairy’s trimmer didn’t receive formal training, an independent trimmer with that type of background visits the dairy on occasion to offer assistance with any problems that may have arisen.

“Once you learn the basics of trimming hooves, there’s not a lot that changes,” Van Wyk says. “Cows’ hooves are pretty much the same. Brushing up on your technique is always a good idea, though. That’s the idea of having this independent trimmer stop in at least once a year.”

The dairy uses a tilt-table, which was the most common means of trimming hooves when their dairy was established. Since that time, some dairies have transitioned to vertical chutes, which is probably what Dykstra Dairy will use when it’s time to replace their tilt table. An electric grinder with a blade and the standard trimming hand tools round out the trimmer’s tool list.

In northwest Iowa, most dairies hire independent trimmers. The fact that many dairies there milk under 3,000 cows makes it less feasible for them to retain their own full-time hoof trimmer.

“There are a few who have their own trimmer,” Van Wyk says. “When we were considering our options, we knew having an independent trimmer meant we’d have to sort and move cows for the trimmer when they were coming. You almost have to designate a staff member to take care of that, and that could occupy one or two days a week. When we have someone who does all the sorting, moving and the trimming, we feel we’re not doubling up on labor and have the advantage of using the trimmer whenever we need to.”

Van Wyk believes Dykstra Dairy is fortunate to have a hoof trimmer that is able to work independently without a great deal of supervision. Once a dairy begins milking more than 2,000 cows, employing a full-time trimmer may be a wise choice.

“It would probably work to have someone trimming 75 percent of the time and working on other things in between,” Van Wyk says. “It seems there are always cows in our herd that can use attention. Our philosophy is that it’s more cost-effective to get on top of the situation than to let it get out of hand.” PD

Loretta Sorensen is a freelance author in Yankton, South Dakota.

Loretta Sorensen for Progressive Dairyman