Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

5 Things I can't do without: Lee and Nate Carlson

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 31 March 2015

lee and nate carlson

Dairymen in southeastern Minnesota have likely heard of Carlson Hoof Trimming, a second-generation family business that has literally shaped the way cows walk for nearly 40 years.



Lee Carlson left his career as a high school biology teacher to pursue a hoof-trimming career in 1977. He traveled as far as South Dakota and Wisconsin as he built his business. By the time he retired in 2010, Lee had trimmed nearly 200,000 cows.

Lee passed down his grinder to son Nate, who took over the business four years ago. Nate also spent a few years as a teacher before coming back to join his dad.

“I always enjoyed it growing up,” Nate says, recalling the days of tagging alongside his father to farms.

Times have certainly changed since the early days of Carlson Hoof Trimming.

“It used to be you could start farming with a cow and a calf and a dollar and a half,” Lee says. “Now, it’s a sophisticated agribusiness.”


Just as the business model has evolved, so has the dairy cow. She must keep up with the demand for more milk, and the trimmer must help her to thrive in her environment. That, says Lee, is one of the biggest challenges in the battle against lameness. “We are expecting so much more from the cow,” he notes.

Over the years, the men found helping both cows and people to be most rewarding.

“The best part is the relationships with farm owners or the workers on the farm,” Nate says. “Ultimately, we are in the business of building relationships.”

Lee adds, “It was satisfying when I would come back to a farm after a month and the dairyman would say that a cow had improved. I enjoyed contributing to the health of the cow.”

Progressive Dairyman caught up with the father-son hoof-trimming duo to learn what five things they depend on each day to get the job done.

1. Good equipment. Lee spent the first 15 years of his hoof-trimming career using only hand tools. He could trim four cows in an hour and would spend all day at a 40-cow dairy.


Now, with tools like the Roto-Clip and grinders, an efficient trimmer may get 20 cows through the chute in an hour. Nate agrees, adding that good equipment also improves cow and trimmer safety, which is why he purchased a hydraulic chute last year.

2. Good communication. As former teachers, Lee and Nate both emphasize the importance of communicating with customers. “The more you teach them, the fewer lameness issues they are going to have.

They would rather have functional trimming than fixing lame cases,” Nate explains. “I enjoy communicating back and forth with customers, not only to answer their questions but also to ask them questions back about what they are seeing.”

3. Good suppliers to get the equipment and the things needed to run their business.

4.Good health. Hoof trimming is a physically demanding job, and the human body is perhaps the most important tool in getting it done. That is why the Carlsons value their physical health. A good night’s sleep is a must for putting in long days.

Also, keeping in prime working condition was always one of Lee’s top priorities. “It was my goal to die with all of my body parts,” he jokes, though he admits to having suffered a broken nose once and being knocked out twice during his trimming tenure.

5. A support network of family and friends. For Nate, learning the trade of trimming, relationship-building and running a business were all perks of working alongside his dad.

While the two find camaraderie in each other, they both also benefit from breaking out of the monotony of the day-to-day trimming to get together with peers in their field. “One thing I couldn’t do my job without is learning from (Lee) and other trimmers,” Nate says.

Lee found great benefit in reaching out through his involvement in the Hoof Trimmers Association for many years. He laughs, “I always enjoyed hearing that cows jumped over the gates for other people too.” PD

Lee Carlson (left) passed on the hoof-trimming trade to his son Nate (right), who continues to operate Carlson Hoof Trimming in the southeastern corner of Minnesota. Photo by Peggy Coffeen.

peggy coffeen

Peggy Coffeen
Progressive Dairyman