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Handy Hints: The principles of foot trimming


Even experienced trimmers can pick up bad habits, so whether you regularly trim or are learning for the first time, re-affirming yourself with the ‘UK gold standard’ methods will be of benefit.

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Dairy Veterinary Consultancy’s Owen Akinson breaks down and outlines well-known trimming technique, the Dutch five-step method, and explains the physiology of the cow’s foot.

Before you begin

Lift the foot so the cow is comfortable, then clean and dry the foot with sawdust. Work safely, says Mr Atkinson, and do not stand where you are likely to be kicked.

Step 1 

He says: “Trim the inner claw so the length of the wall from the coronary band to the toe is 75-80mm or 80mm for a typical Holstein. This is cut one.


“Shape the foot so it is level, leaving a 5-7mm step at the toe. This is cut two. Preserve the rear of the sole as this creates a more upright foot angle.”


Step 1 Image
Before you begin image

Step 2

Repeat for the outer claw, levelling up to the inner claw. Again, do cut one then cut two.
Mr Atkinson says: “Normally, more horn has to be removed from the outer claw [only minimal horn is removed from the inner claw to retain weight-bearing] and more horn is removed from the rear of the sole too, in order to get it level with the inner claw.”


Step 3

Step 3

Model, or ‘dish’, out the inner parts of both claws and behind the wall on the inner wall edge to allow a flow of muck between the toes and reduce weight-bearing on the typical solar ulcer site.


Always preserve the ‘toe triangle’ as this is an important weight bearing area and should not be over-thinned, advises Mr Atkinson.


Step 4

This step is for creating a height difference for a painful claw (such as one with a horn lesion) so injured parts bear less weight and are allowed to recover, says Mr Atkinson.


“In most cases, the horn is removed from the back two-thirds of the outer claw – again preserving the ‘toe triangle’,” he says.


“Check the height difference with the flat on the hoof knife handle, as many cows will benefit from a block on the sound claw.”


Picture of step 4
Picture of step 4

Step 5

Remove any loose horn from the heel. There will be more in cases of heel horn erosion, adds Mr Atkinson.


“Beware of removing too much weight-bearing surface from the bulbs of the heel. This step can also be used for cleaning and treating digital dermatitis lesions. Check between the claws and at the heel of digital dermatitis,” he says.


“The procedure for front feet is similar, except the outer claw is trimmed first and the inner claw is most likely to have injuries. Preserve horn on the outer claw.”


Different part of the foot explained

  1. Wall horn: This is equivalent to the finger nail and is by far the strongest horn and most important for bearing weight
  2. Sole horn: Equivalent to the foot pad on a dog or cat
  3. White line: The junction between wall horn and sole horn, made up of weaker horn
  4. Pedal bone: Equivalent to the bone at the end of the finger tip, it is the main bone in the hoof and is triangular in shape
  5. Laminar corium (quick): Important tissue supporting the pedal bone in the hoof wall – known as the ‘laminae’
  6. Sole corium: Responsible for making new sole horn. Prone to damage leading to sole bruising and sole ulcers
  7. Coronary band: At the hairline at the top of the hoof wall. New wall horn grows down from here, taking about one year to reach the toe end and five months to heel
  8. Flexor tendon: Attaches to the pedal bone. Damage following deep infection can lead to the toe pointing upwards
  9. Digital cushion: A dense fat pad under the heel. Very important for absorbing shocks and supporting the pedal bone. Thin cow have less support from the digital cushion and so are more at risk of becoming lame, particularly from sole bruising, sole ulcers and white line disease (claw horn disorders)
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