Hoofing around

HELLO FRIENDS! Our girls in the dairy barn had their hooves trimmed this week, and I thought it would be good to pontificate on the amazing phenomenon of the cow hoof.

Hoof health is another dairy farmer obsession. If a dairy farmer can maintain healthy hooves (and good forage) the world is their oyster. This may sound easy – hooves seem tough, like horns or teeth, right? No. You’re wrong. Very wrong. I can’t believe you even suggested that. You should really pay attention now to find out how wrong you really were.

Even though a cow hoof looks hard and like it is designed to take abuse, it is actually very sensitive and delicate. A cow’s ankle and foot are essentially one large toe attached to the bottom of its leg.  To get an idea of the feeling and sensitivity, think about your fingers and toes. Take a moment and push the tip of your thumbnail back toward your finger. Notice the colour change as the blood gets pushed away from the pressure? A cow hoof is attached to its foot in the same way. Imagine the pain when your nail gets bent back or ripped off.  Did thinking about it make you wince? The pain is identical for a cow if she has an injured or diseased hoof. The only difference is that you and I can function quite normally with an injured finger or toe nail, whereas a cow cannot.

This is because a cow is actually suspended in her hooves. Imagine bearing your weight on your finger and toenails. A cow’s ‘toenails’ are built to do so, but the sensitivity we feel in our nails is identical for a cow. They also have no alternative to using them to walk on, even if they are injured.

Dairy farmers are keenly aware of this. Every cow has her hooves checked daily for any sign of disease or injury. If anything is found, the cow is quickly treated with fast acting medication and pain relief. If the problem is very serious the farmer calls up the vet or the hoof trimmer to deal with the issue right away. Time is critical since a cow can’t take a day off from getting up to eat or drink.

Routine trimming is also part of the program. Our girls get their toenails trimmed several times a year to ensure their feet stay healthy. Our trimmer comes every two months to take care of long growth on a handful of cows, or to treat special cases. We determine who gets trimmed by grading the cows as they walk, watching to see if her gait is natural and free of discomfort.

Healthy feet are part of the larger picture of maintaining healthy cows. Healthy cows are happy cows, and happy cows produce good quality healthy milk.