Farm Horizons, August 2012

Local hoof trimmer cares for cows’ hooves on modern dairies

Jennifer Kotila, Staff Writer

Unlike 25 years ago, cows on large, modern dairies are not pastured and walking in dirt during the day. Instead, they spend the majority of their time walking and standing on concrete.

Cows’ hooves grow just like human fingernails. While dirt will wear a cow’s hooves down, concrete does not do that. In order to keep cows producing the way they should, and keep them from becoming lame, their hooves need to be trimmed once or twice per year on average, according to Richard Davidson, Jr., operator of JR’s Hoof Care of Cokato.

Herds today are also fed more corn, which contains more protein than the grass cows ate when pastured. This factors into how fast their hooves grow, Davidson noted.

“The genetics of an animal, and the feed ration that it is fed, will generally determine how often their hooves need to be trimmed,” Davidson said. “If the parents had big feet, and the offspring are fed a high protein diet, more hoof trimming will be needed.”

The day Davidson was interviewed for this article, he was at Chanlore Farms, which is owned by Loring and Carol Davis. Their sons, Kevin and Brad, run the farm full time; their other sons, Austin and Darin, work at the dairy part time.

Trimming the hooves of 20 to 50 cows per day, depending their condition, Davidson is scheduled at the Davis Dairy every four to six weeks to trim hooves.

The dairy has about 260 milking cows at any given time, and the cows’ hooves are trimmed on a rotational basis, Brad said.

“If a cow has sore feet, they are not going to walk to the bunk to eat,” Brad said, noting that the cow will not be as functional or produce as much milk.

Davidson added that a cow that is laying down due to sore hooves will not be getting as much exercise, therefore will not reproduce as well, either.

Most cows only need regular hoof trimming to prevent them from having problems with lameness. Others have sore hooves, and need to have the sores cleaned and medicated.

“It varies for sore feet,” Brad said. “I think it has to do with genetics – seems to run in the family. One cow we have that we take to the fair all the time has had only one sore on her foot in two years,” he added, noting that some cows seem to have sores all the time.

The most common sores a cow will have on its hooves are corns, hairy warts, foot rot (kind of like athletes foot), sole ulcers (kind of like an ingrown toenail), or abscesses (kind of like a cavity). When a cow has one of these sores, Davidson cleans it out, removing any dead flesh in order for it to heal properly, places a medicine pack on it, and then wraps the hoof with a bandage.

As he is trimming their hooves, Davidson keeps a record of each cow, what was wrong with each foot, and whether or not it needed a wrap. Not only does this assist in keeping track of how much he is owed for his work, but it allows the farmer to have a written record of how each cow’s hooves are doing, Davidson said.

He has operated his own hoof trimming business for eight years, and worked at his father’s business for 13 years. His father started a hoof trimming business in 1982, when Davidson was 10 years old. At one time, Davidson’s father had 18 hoof trimmers on the road, traveling all over the eastern half of the US trimming hooves for farmers. Today, he still sells hoof-trimming supplies.

Davidson would go with his father hoof trimming on the weekends. “I did go with my dad when I was younger, and he did teach me some stuff, but dad had already moved to the office when I wanted to learn,” Davidson said. Therefore, his mentor was a man who trimmed for his father for five to six years, Bob Walter.

After graduating from high school, Davidson attended Northwestern Bible College in Roseville for one year before becoming a full time hoof trimmer. “During winter break, I cornered my dad and told him I wanted a truck and a trailer,” Davidson said. His father went to the bank and took out a loan to get Davidson just that. “I had nothing to do – I wanted to work,” Davidson added.

That spring, which was 1992, Davidson started hoof trimming full time, and never looked back. Traveling to trim for his dad’s company at first, Davidson has been to Texas, Louisiana, Florida, North and South Carolina, New York, and North Dakota.

Nowadays, he keeps busy close to home, and the furthest Davidson travels is Sioux Falls, SD.

When trimming hooves, Davidson uses a self-portable Riley Built hoof trimming chute, which tips the cow on its side.

Davidson notes there are several types of chutes, some stationary models, some stand-up chutes, and some mounted on a truck.

“I like mine because all four feet are up in the air and tied down. I can see them,” Davidson said.

The Davises have a stationary stand-up chute that they use when Davidson is unavailable to take care of sore hooves.

Those who have questions, or need the services of JR’s Hoof Care can call (320) 296-8365.

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