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The abc of hoof trimming in dairy cattle

Livestock By Grace Chomba | 21st May, 2020

Farmers are shown how to trim the hooves of their cows at Red Hill in Limuru in 2016. [File, Standard]

Hoof trimming is key in the prevention of lameness in animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and donkeys. It allows animals to walk normally and prevent foot-related diseases.

Lameness in goats and cattle confers reproduction problems, a decline in milk production, bodyweight loss and reduced animal activity. 

Hoof Trimming

Regular hoof trimming may increase the functional life of a dairy cow. Correct trimming gives the animals' hooves stability and enables them to distribute weight equally between the hooves.

Routine trimming, which removes even small amounts of the hoof from the sole, can stimulate hoof producing tissues. It is recommended to trim feet at least once or twice a year. The ideal times would be once at dry-off and repeated after three to four months of milking.

A professional hoof trimmer who uses correct equipment and procedures should be employed. Good record-keeping is key to monitoring a cow's condition.

Regular hoof trimming results in minimal loses, improves recovery and reduces animal suffering.

Animals run the risk of catching the following foot problems:

Hard and Soft feet

Soft feet  generally occurs when animals are kept in free stalls where they have to stand in manure and urine. It causes heel and sole cracks that create room for hoof infections. The hard feet mainly occurs when sawdust is used for the animals' bedding. This may result in cracks at the top of the foot, which may extend down from the hairline and allow infections relatively high in the foot.

Foot Rot

It's a smelly infection that occurs between the animals' hooves. Cattle with footrot show lameness, usually on one leg only. The foot swells above the coronet and the toes spread oozing a foul smell. If not treated in time it leads to permanent deformity.

Heel Erosions

This condition is common in confined cattle in wet and dirty lots. The heels get filled with black material and bacteria while overgrown hooves shift the weight toward the heels, exposing the heels to erosion and mostly in the hind hoofs.


This condition is the aftermath of overgrown and deformed feet or toes. Animals may appear quite lame or stiff and have difficulties in getting up and down. Infections or ulcers may occur when foreign material enters places where the wall and sole have separated.

Sole ulcers

They are raw sores usually occurring on the inner side of the outside hoof. Sole ulcers are usually associated with clinical manifestations of laminitis. Other factors that predispose cows to sole ulcers include moisture and manure, excessive wear, and poor hoof trimming. Sole ulcers usually occur in both hind legs.

Hoof-Care Treatments


Several areas in nutrition can help reduce the risk of foot problems. They include carbohydrates, protein, trace minerals, and vitamins. Formulating the ideal ration to maintain good hoof health is not always enough. Nutrition should be weighed along with other factors in preventing lameness.

Feed dairy cows grains at least twice a day while milking cows should be fed grain three to four times a day. Provide hay or forage before giving the animals grains.

Dietary buffers should be included in the diet ration at 0.80 per cent of the total ration dry matter.

Behaviour and stress surveillance 

Prolonged standing causes sore feet that are susceptible to disease hence dairy cows should be allowed to lie down for 10 to 14 hours a day.

Allow the animals to exercise as it aids in stimulating blood flow via the feet thus keeping the tissue healthy. 

Avoid laminitis predisposing factors such as the introduction of heifers into a mature cow group and overcrowding heifers.

Preventing laminitis in heifers may consist of a separate heifer group where animals are acclimated to their new environment allowing for increased resting time and minimised aggression.

Ensure your animals have adequate stall space and soft bedding. Sand is the optimal stall bedding which provides comfort and traction. Ensure it is free from small stones to avoid penetrating the injured hooves.

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