Can hoof trimming have a negative effect on a cow? If so, how would you know? I guess most farmers don’t spend too much time thinking about that. To me, it seems that hoof trimming is perceived as a job that “just needs to be done”. Most people would say that it is better to trim a lame cow rather than do nothing at all, even if the person who is doing the trimming is not well trained.
The question that could be asked is “if that is true, why do we trim lame cows?” There are many possible answers to that question – such as: “to help the cow to get rid of her pain” or “to let the cow come right” or “to get the cow back to full production as soon as possible”. Often cows improve after trimming, sometimes right away or it could take a little while. Thus, the conclusion is drawn that the trimming must have been good because the cow came right. I would like to challenge this thinking. I believe that the main reason we trim lame cows is because we want them to come right as fast as possible. The “as fast as possible” is the important part. If we just want cows to come right, then we may as well leave them in a close-by paddock and give them some rest. Most cows will come right by themselves. However, it is the “as fast as possible” that is the challenge, but if we aim for that, we will constantly look for ways to improve. Also, if we get cows to come right as soon as possible, all the other benefits will follow – increased milk production, better in-calf rates, lower treatment costs, etc. So, the starting point is the time it takes a cow to heal by herself, because if we decide to trim a lame cow the goal must be to speed up the healing process. If it doesn’t there is no point in trimming her. If you could accurately measure the difference your trimming makes you could ask “what would be the minimum number of days that we would need to speed up the healing process by to make trimming worthwhile?”. However, we can’t say that because every cow is different and every lesion has a different grade of severity. So, when we trim a cow there should be an obvious positive result. Every day that a cow is lame longer than necessary she costs you avoidable money.

poorly-trimmed-hoof-2016-apoorly-trimmed-hoof-corrected

The photos shows a cow’s hoof that was trimmed by a farm staff member and after it was trimmed correctly. It was not done correctly resulting in a prolonged period of discomfort and unproductivity for this cow. Yes, she was worse off after the trim than before. The trimming cost the farmer considerably more money through loss of production and loss of body condition score and whatever other costs there may have been.
Hoof trimming is a highly skilled job that you don’t learn by watching someone doing it for a day. Even a one day hoof trimming workshop is never enough to make someone a good hoof trimmer, no matter who runs the course. An expectation like that is unrealistic. This means that getting a professional hoof trimmer to come in to trim your lame cows creates an opportunity for the cow to heal faster and, as a result, minimise the effects of lameness on your farm and therefore make you more money. Another option would be to train yourself or a staff member up to the level where they could be close to professional standards by attending an advance training course and learning how to improve the healing process more effectively.