The Five Steps of Hoof Trimming

By: W.H. Mekking, Master of Animal Science,

The procedure of trimming in five steps described here refers to the hind feet of the cow. For trimming the forefeet you need to replace inner claw by outer claw and vice versa.

The first claw to trim is the healthy claw (if necessary!). The length and the angle of the claw are very important. The healthy (inner) claw should after that be used as an example for the more affected (outer) claw.

The first three steps serve as preventative trimming and the last two are curative trimming steps (to treat problems). The claw of an average Holstein cow is 7.5 cm long and the sole is about 0.5 cm thick. During preventive trimming you want to shape the claw in such a way that it is protected from getting problems. So it is of utmost importance not to over trim (trim to much) the cow.

Step 1:

Cut back the inner claw to a length of 7.5 cm from the coronet (that's the place where the horn starts). The cut must be perpendicular to the sole.

Trim back the sole to a thickness of 0.5 cm at the tip of the toe and leave the thickness of the bulb or heel as it was. Save the height of the heel!

Step 2:

Cut back the length of the outer claw to the same length as the inner claw and trim the sole to an equal height as the inner claw (if possible). Be aware not to over trim (so don't make the sole to thin). In case of a buckled toe (laminitic claw) it is not always possible to reach the same height in the toe. The heel or bulb is more important, because it bears most of the weight and has more pressure to endure. 

Step 3:

Trim the claws into a slightly hollow shape (also called egg shape), starting 2.5 to 3 cm from the toe towards the heel. This is done to check the typical site for a sole ulcer and secondly this will keep the space between the claws clean and airy (preventing interdigital dermatitis).

Step 4:

In case of defects like a white line disease, sole ulcer or wall ulcer this claw must be trimmed down further. This creates a height difference between the healthy (inner) and damaged (outer) claw and the weight bearing is partly transferred to the healthy (inner) claw. The damaged claw can heal more fast if there is less or no pressure. In case of too little height difference a block (hoof block adhesive) may be applied to the healthy (inner) claw to raise its height. In case of bruising of the sole a height difference can be made, but don’t trim the sole too thin! In step two the excess weight is removed and this is normally enough relief for the claw.

Step 5:

Remove loose horn and hard ridges on the claws. Be careful in the inner claw: here only the fissures in the heel are removed, any further loose horn is not a problem. Removing it will affect the stability and the height of the claw.

In the outer claw loose horn and ridges have to be removed in the last two thirds of the sole surface. And finally, check the feet for digital dermatitis. If necessary treat it with a hoof gel.