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Hoof Trimmers Association’s unique auction raises funds for hoof health research

Bev Berens for Progressive Dairyman Published on 12 December 2016
Dr. Gerard Cramer and his colleagues used the HTA grant money to study different trimming methods on 600 cows.

The outlook for the Hoof Trimmers Association (HTA) was bleak in the late 1990s. Costs for conferences and other expenses outpaced income and membership dues.

With a checking account on the brink of disaster, the organization was dangerously close to closing for good.

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It took a determined group of individuals, some generous personal donations and a growth spurt in membership to turn the organization and its finances around, put its feet on solid ground, walk and eventually run again.

That spirit of giving, good will and, yes, sometimes sacrifice people in the dairy community are known for helped turn the tide for HTA.

In a matter of 10 years, the organization went from bust to boom, due in part to a fun and energetic auction that culminates the Hoof Health Conference every 18 months. With auction proceeds overflowing the group’s coffers, membership now faced a new dilemma: What to do with all that money?

The idea is born

Elbert Koster of Red Deer County, Alberta, Canada, was wrestling with the problem. “I realized that as a non-profit organization, our goal is not to build wealth for retirement,” he says. “Just as in personal finances, you need to do three things with your money – spend some, save some and give some. The giving is what we were lacking on.”

Just as Koster’s tithe to his church is near to his heart, he wanted to use some of the funds for a cause dear to the hearts of his friends and colleagues in the cattle industry.

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Gerard Cramer, DVM, DVSc, at University of Minnesota recalls the ride to demonstration day at the HTA Hoof Health Conference in Baton Rouge, 2010.

“Elbert was driving Ondvej Becvar and me to the Saturday trim day and lamenting the fact that HTA had all this excess money,” Cramer says. “I can’t remember who, but one of us suggested that we researchers in foot health could always use a few dollars for projects.

Elbert seemed intrigued by the idea, and we discussed it a bit more on the car ride. From there, Elbert ran with the idea.”

Improving hoof health – finding solutions to problems that could benefit cows, their owners and the entire dairy industry – now that was a cause the entire membership could wrap its collective heart around.

Taking its cue from the hoof trimmers, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) agreed to match the funds so a significant dollar amount could be put toward obtaining useful information and applicable solutions that can be immediately implemented on the farm.

The partnership is a good fit; AABP already had a system in place to call for proposals, review and select recipients, something the HTA wasn’t prepared to accommodate.

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There were talks between the two organizations. In 2011, Koster presented the idea to the membership and pushed for a vote.

The motion carried.

The first grant went out in 2013.

From good will and charity within its membership borders, hoof trimmers from all over the world and veterinarians began giving back, investing in their industry in a creative way on behalf of themselves and the farmers whose barns they enter every day.

“We need to put our money where our mouth is and start knowing more about what causes lameness,” Koster adds.

HTA hosts a live auction that has successfully raised thousands of dollars which go directly to support research projects related to dairy cattle hoof health.

A joint committee between HTA and AABP developed selection criteria that included priority for joint projects between members of both organizations. It had to be a practical study that could be put right to work.

The plan at work

Dr. Jan Shearer, professor at Iowa State University, received the first grant to study claw lesions and how they were being treated. His findings discovered that the topical antibiotics used most frequently may actually delay healing due to tissue irritation.

Cramer, along with co-investigators Sarah Wagner (professor at North Dakota State University) and Nigel Cook (professor at University of Wisconsin), received the second grant. They were assisted by University of Minnesota graduate student Grant Stoddart.

Their study compares two different trimming methods on 600 cows, following them from dry-off trim to a mid-lactation trim, when each subject receives a locomotion score. The purpose is to study which method best reduces or controls sole ulcers and white-line disease.

Wagner, who is the lameness committee chairperson for AABP, says, “This is a first-of-its-kind partnership between two organizations to make research happen on the farm. It can be a way to get preliminary knowledge that leads to larger grants.

This type of work, I believe, is underfunded to the relative importance it has for cows and implications on the farm. It can provide a lot of bang for the buck. We can make an immediate applied application on the farm.”

Cramer has used the HTA/AABP grant to obtain more bang, leveraging more money into his study. A University of Minnesota grant for $37,000 will follow additional cows through an entire lactation and beyond. On top of that, a $160,000 grant from Rapid Agriculture Response Fund, University of Minnesota Ag Experiment Station Fund, will allow Cramer to study the connection between ketosis and lameness.

“We are at ground zero; we are in the barns every day. Our clients like to hear that we are working in partnership and that the research is coming from us in the barns,” Jamie Sullivan, HTA president from Carman, Manitoba, Canada, says.

Three members representing each organization sift through new applications for the next award with new people on the committee each go-round. Geof Smith, DVM, and Andrew P. Fidler of North Carolina State University and Ritchie Roberts of Double R Cattle Services were recently awarded the third grant to study a platform-based gait analysis system against a visual locomotion scoring system.

Funding the plan

It was a simple idea that has grown to be one of the most anticipated events of each HTA Hoof Health Conference – the auction. Initially, auction proceeds rebuilt the HTA’s treasury. Today, it funds research.

Jerry Bowman of Wisconsin and Steve Bartelds of Colorado run the show. Both are hoof trimmers. Both are auctioneers. Together, they make the auction a fun event that has every participant paying outlandish prices for ordinary things.

Koster once paid $750 for a small container of smoked fish. “I knew we couldn’t get it through customs and back into Canada. It was a very expensive midnight snack we enjoyed that night,” he says.

Don’t expect to pay $400 for a Vermont Teddy Bear. Those bring closer to $1,000.

A cheap set of lawn chairs has been bought and sold over and over, each time at a higher price because, by now, these chairs have travelled around the world to new homes, then back to the conference several times.

“We raise a lot of money off simple things,” Sullivan says. His wife, a purse connoisseur, brought a knock-off Louis Vuitton handbag, got items donated from all the vendors and filled the purse with ordinary items found in a hoof trimmer’s truck. “The bag sold for hundreds,” Sullivan says. “We called it a ‘Moo-is Vuitton’ bag.”

Even the hat off the auctioneer’s head has been sold, all in the spirit of giving to what has turned into a very good cause: improving the health and well-being of cows all over the world.

Not the end

Sullivan believes the program will continue long into the future with funds produced from the auction.

“I can’t overstate how much we appreciate having the partnership with them. It’s been a really beneficial and productive collaboration,” Wagner says.  end mark

Bev Berens is a freelance writer based out of Holland, Michigan.

PHOTO 1: Dr. Gerard Cramer and his colleagues used the HTA grant money to study different trimming methods on 600 cows. The purpose was to identify which method best reduces or controls sole ulcers and white-line disease. Photo provided by Gerard Cramer.

PHOTO 2: HTA hosts a live auction that has successfully raised thousands of dollars which go directly to support research projects related to dairy cattle hoof health. Photo courtesy of Hoof Trimmer’s Association.

 

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