Ensuring your safety and cow comfort when trimming hooves

How do you handle your cows individually? Are you able to you restrain your cow so that she is comfortable and you are safe?

This is a major issue on dairy farms. One time I went to a farm to trim 20 -30 cows. For some reason the farmer had started doing some cows before I got there. When I arrrived up he came out, greeted me and helped me set up. There was a cow lying down in the vet race. She had gone down as the farmer was trimming her feet. She was still down by the time I left and as far as I know she never got up again. This is not uncommon and I would like to raise this topic to help you avoid such accidents.

There is a right way and a wrong way to restrain cows. When a cow is being restrained there are some principles that always apply:

  1. The cow needs to be comfortable
  2. The operator needs to be safe at all times
  3. The operator needs to be in control at all times.


  1. If the cow is not comfortable she will be a lot more unsettled.

    This seems common sense but is often overlooked. Consider the surface the cow is standing on. Obviously a slippery surface is not good but an equally or maybe even more important point is that the cow must be standing on a flat or sloping up surface. No matter what crush you use, a cow does not like it if she is facing downhill and you are lifting her back feet. She will fight you all the way.

Purpose-built hoof trimming crushes, like the WOPA Hoof treatment Crush, have a belly strap to support the cow should she lose her grip and slip. An added benefit of the belly strap is that it calms the cow down. Cows relax when you put pressure on their belly. That is why you always see a cow hanging in a sling rather than standing up.

Another thing I would like to mention is the fact that most people like to have a leg tied up just above the claw against a bar. It makes the leg sit more rigid but if the cow should go down, for whatever reason, there is a very high risk of injuries such as broken legs or dislocated hips – this is what happened to the cow I mentioned earlier. Lifting from the hock is much more comfortable for the cow, and because she can still lean on the raised leg there is very minimal risk of injury.

  1. The operator needs to be safe at all times.

In this case, being safe and being comfortable go together. If you are uncomfortable you are unsafe and if you are unsafe then you are not comfortable unless you don’t know you are unsafe. This has happened to many people who have told us stories about braking arms, loosing teeth or lying unconscious behind a cow because that cow kicked back. In many, if not all, of those cases the incident occurred because there were too many bars in the way, or the operator was kneeling down behind the cow reaching out to the back feet, certainly a combination of these two situations could end up with major repercussions.

When trimming a back leg of a cow, the leg should be lifted from the hock and the trimmer should always stand beside the cow, in the same way a horse farrier stands beside the horse. The cows’ leg should be lifted high enough so that you can comfortably lean onto the cow with your back pretty much upright or slightly bent forward. You can achieve this by going through your knees. Leaning onto the cow and keeping your back straight is the key to comfortable and safe trimming. You can keep that up for much longer than crouching down behind the cow. Also the physical touch gives the cow a sense of security and helps her to relax. This is another reason why you should have no bars or pipe work in the way.

One last thing I want to mention about keeping safe is that when you trim a front foot always have one of the back feet raised. This way it is a lot harder for a cow to kick forward and she is standing much more stable.

  1. The third point is about the operator being in control.

Cows sense whether somebody is nervous and lacking confidence. When a cow is in a crush you should always be able to lift or lower her using winches without handles flying around by themselves. A braked winch with reduction is the answer here.

Good facilities and some proper training are essential elements to being safe and gaining the confidence and control needed to do a good job.

If you are interested in improving your cow and operator comfort, safety and control speak to us about the WOPA Hoof Treatment Crush.


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