Kelsie struggled a bit in the squeeze chute as she settled in for her yearly pedicure. With a rope attached below her “dew claws,” we gently lifted her hoof, fastening the line to a bar at the top of the chute so that we could safely trim her long hooves. Most of our cattle don't need hoof pedicures, but Kelsie was one of the few in our herd who needed this treatment.
Cattle have cloven hoofs with two dew claws above the hooves that help give the cow traction. Cattle forage for a living and rely on their feet to carry them to the tastiest grass or, in winter, hay. Just like humans, cattle don't like to walk if their feet hurt or their toes overlap. (Each half of a cloven hoof is really a toe that is mostly toe nail.) Long, untrimmed toes can make walking painful and inhibit their foraging. The less they eat, the thinner they get, and nobody wants a skinny cow. Some of our cattle naturally trim their hooves just by walking. Others, like Kelsie, need some spa time.
Cattle are terrified of falling, so they don't like to stand on three legs while we suspend the fourth. To help alleviate this fear, we press the sides of the squeeze chute against their sides. It's kind of a cage with adjustable metal sides. You might have seen a squeeze chute in the 2010 movie “Temple Grandin” in which that brilliant medical researcher demonstrated the calming effect of pressure. Squeezing comforts the cow and assures her she won't fall.
Our squeeze chute has a “headlock” that can gently hold the cow's head steady so she won't thrash about. But because Scottish Highlander cattle have long horns, we can't use the headlock, so we hold the cow steady with a halter.
Cattle farms often hire a professional hoof trimmer who will arrive at the farm with a contraption that lifts the cow onto her side for easy access to her feet. Then they use a tool that looks like a sander to rasp away the excess hoof. It's a quick, painless way to trim, but unfortunately the arrangement doesn't work with horned cattle. The cow has to lie flat on the tilted bed, and she can't if she has horns. It would be like a person trying to lie in bed with a sombrero on. Without the cow and her hooves secured in a horizontal position, it's hard to get a good angle and the right leverage for using the sander. Besides that, the cow would probably pull her foot away from the vibration. So we use a hoof-cutting device that resembles a huge pair of pliers.
It only took about fifteen minutes to trim each of Kelsie's hooves. Thankfully, out of sixty-two cattle in our herd, just four cows needed a pedicure this year. Kelsie's hooves look perfect now, ready to take her all over in pursuit of that nonstop munching with friends that cattle enjoy so much. Maybe next time she'd like to go for stunning look-at-me hooves with some red and racy polish from Chanel.
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.