More Than Farming: Ian Mathers, Bovine Hoof Trimmer

MorethanFarming

Ian Mathers alongside his hoof trimming chute.

Ian Mathers alongside his hoof trimming chute.

Often when I first tell people what my job is, they are confused.

“You’re a hoof trimmer? What is that?” they ask. While it’s not a common job, it’s an important one. As a hoof trimmer, I am responsible for the health and care of cattle’s hooves, and I mostly work with dairy cattle. It’s my job to do regular maintenance on cows’ feet by trimming their hooves.

Just like humans need to trim their growing finger and toe nails, so do cows. For cows, it’s even more important to trim to ensure the animal is able to properly walk on its hooves. It’s my job to ensure cows have healthy hooves and sometimes that means giving extra care and attention to sore feet.

My job is definitely not glamorous. In fact, it was featured on an episode of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” television show. Despite how dirty the job can be some days, the work is highly rewarding. Every day I get to do what I love – work with animals to make them healthier and happier.

So how does someone become a hoof trimmer? I grew up on a dairy farm in Northern Ireland. My family immigrated to Canada in 1997, and we continued to dairy farm for another eight years. Eventually I began working in the industry in several different capacities. In that time, I noticed that many dairy farms had cows with hoof problems related to either poor quality of trimming or lack of trimming altogether. That was four years ago, and I started my own hoof trimming business because I wanted to do something about what I saw.

For training, I took a week-long course at Dairyland Hoof Care Institute in Baraboo, Wisconsin. While this course set a great foundation for knowledge and ensured my certification, it has ultimately been through practice and experience that I have learned the most. As well, I often consult with other hoof trimmers who have been doing this work for decades.

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This trimming chute is holds the animal in place, safely, while they are being worked on.

On a typical day, I arrive at a dairy farm in the morning, with a plan to trim anywhere from five to 35 animals. I set up my trimming chute near the barn where the farmer will be able to handle the cows easily and get them in the chute with as little stress on the animal as possible. Once the animal is contained, I work on each foot one at a time.

Some hooves only need to be trimmed because they are too long, while others may have other issues – like an abscess – that needs more attention. After each cow is trimmed, I keep a record of that cow’s hoof health so that I can let the farmer know which cows they need to keep a closer eye on to ensure the feet are healing properly.

The trimming chute I use is an important part of my work. Essentially, it is a stall that holds the animal in place while they are being worked on. It’s a mobile unit that I can tow behind my truck. By owning my own trimming chute, I am able to make changes to it as I see fit. Since I started this job, I’ve been able to make several different changes to the chute to make trimming safer for the cow and myself. For example, I installed rubber mats on the floor of the chute so the animals have better footing when they are inside.

As well, I am often traveling long distances or working in extreme weather conditions and so I have adapted my chute for that. For example, I had mesh curtains custom made that I can fold down to keep the wind and rain off me. Minor changes like these have a big impact.

Another important aspect of my job is the interaction I have with the farmers who have hired me to work with their herd of cows. It’s essential that the farmer is active in the regular maintenance of their cows’ feet. It’s my job, as well as the farmer’s job, to keep track of the cows that are having ongoing or recurring problems. I work with the farmer to recommend ways they can work to improve the overall quality of their cows’ feet.

Before hoof trimming

Before hoof trimming

After hoof trimming

After hoof trimming

Essentially, the farmer and I talk fairly often about their cows and how their feet are doing.

Unfortunately, the biggest misconception I encounter in my job is with farmers who think their cows’ feet are not a priority, and only need to be trimmed once a year, if at all.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The health of a cow’s feet is particularly important because a hoof issue can create further health issues. Not only do cows’ hooves grow quickly, there is also a possibility the cow is experiencing pain due to a sore spot that is not visible to the farmer. Because lameness occurs most often in the hooves, hoof health should be a priority for all cattle farmers, which means having each hoof trimmed at least two or three times a year.

To someone interested in doing this job, I would say it’s hard work and my days can be long with a lot of traveling, but it’s worth it. I love working with animals and helping improve their quality of life. Nothing is more satisfying for me than returning to a farm and seeing the cows I have worked on with a completely healed foot.

If you would like to connect with me on social media, I have a Facebook page for BBH Hoofcare where I post a lot of pictures of the animals I work on.

We’re blogging about Canadians working in agriculture. Each month, we’ll feature someone different on www.realdirtblog.ca to show how diverse our Canadian agriculture industry is! Know someone that we should feature? Send us a note at info@farmfoodcare.org.

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