Cattle are designed to walk mainly on the toe and if the hoof is too long, it can throw off their posture and make them walk too much on the heel. Hooves are continuously growing, like fingernails, and they are made from the same thing – keratin. Cattle hooves have two ‘claws’ and are made up of hundreds of tiny tubes. Tubes on the outside grow horizontally and tubes on the inside grow vertically. It’s this difference in direction that helps to give strength. They grow about 4mm a month on average, although this growth is sensitive to conditions experienced by the cow. For example, giving birth, a period of stress or poor quality grazing may alter growth, leave grooves or even cracks in the hoof. It is important to catch these early and have them treated to prevent lameness.
So what does he do?
Firstly Eric sets up his cattle crush. We have one of these on the farm, but Eric brings his own because his has been specially built to tip the cow onto her side! Once the crush is in position the first customer of the day is led into the crush and strapped in around her tummy. The crush is then tilted until the cow is lying on her side with feet within easy reach for trimming. Each foot is secured with rope to the frame and Eric can then get to work. The kit that he brings looks a little bit like the equipment you might use to cut your own nails- but on a much larger scale! First he checks the shape and condition of the hoof before cleaning out the muck from between the claws and from the surfaces with a ‘hoof pic’. Often the outside of the hoof (wall) grows faster than the middle, this means that sometimes it folds under the weight of the cow and forms a pocket for mud and stones to get stuck. This can cause infections and damage to the hoof. This is removed with the knife and ‘nippers’ so that any cracks or holes in the outside surface are cleaned out and made shallow enough for muck to slide off. Then using the nippers again he trims the excess length from each claw. Ideally our cows will wear each claw evenly, if one side is more worn than the other this might indicate a problem so it is worth checking her walk. Next, Eric uses the knife to make sure that each claw is level when the hoof is on the floor. One last step, out comes a gigantic nail file to smooth off the edges, and she’s done!