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Components of a Hoof-Trimming Program in Cattle


Gerard Cramer

, DVM, DVSc, University of Minnesota;

Laura Solano

, DVM, PhD, Independent Contractor

Reviewed/Revised Apr 2023 | Modified Jun 2023
Topic Resources

Although less common with beef cattle, hoof trimming is a routine practice in the dairy industry. The objectives are both to maintain the hoof’s functional anatomy and to treat existing pathology. A few standard methods are recognized, but there is limited objective evidence that any single technique is the most effective. With the lack of industry-mandated practices, many questionable, if not harmful, variations of hoof trimming have been adopted. Recent adoption of standardized lesion definitions has facilitated record-keeping systems that have led to improved management of individual animal hoof health and the routine monitoring of herd hoof health status, as well as industry-wide surveillance of animal health and welfare.

Why Hoof Trimming in Cattle?

Routine hoof trimming is a common practice to prevent lameness in cattle. The aim is to prevent new hoof lesions from developing or to treat existing hoof lesions. Hoof trimming prevents lesions mainly by restoring a more upright foot angle and distributing the weight bearing evenly between the medial (inner) and lateral (outer) hooves. In beef cattle, hoof trimming is not a routine practice and is used mainly for treatment.

Hoof-Trimming Schedule for Cattle

The normal growth rate of the horn of the wall in a cow's hoof is ~7 mm per month, and the normal growth rate of the horn of the sole is ~3 mm per month. The shape and size of the hoof are a result of the balance between growth rate and wear rate. This balance is a consequence of housing, flooring conditions, and hoof-trimming procedures. Both overgrowth and overwear have an impact on overload, balance, and pressure of the hooves, and for this reason, preventive hoof trimming is considered a key strategy in lameness prevention. There is little scientific evidence on the recommended timing and frequency of hoof trimming in dairy cattle.

The frequency of hoof trimming depends on housing conditions, management practices, and the cow’s age and lameness history. The timing and frequency should be strategic and take into account the aforementioned factors. In broad terms, dairy cattle should have their hooves inspected and, if necessary, trimmed, every 4–6 months. In intensive dairy production systems with no excessive hoof wear, a strategic hoof-trimming program might evaluate hooves before first calving, between 60 and 150 days in milk, and before dry-off. Cows with a history of hoof lesions should be evaluated at more frequent intervals (every 3–4 months) because all hoof lesions cause changes in internal hoof structures and growth dynamics.

Hoof-Trimming Method and Assessment in Cattle

Worldwide, several different hoof-trimming methods and adaptations of these methods are used. Two types of hoof-trimming methods are differentiated by the way they treat the angle of the sole relative to the metatarsals/metacarpals. In the first method, the sole is trimmed flat, creating a perpendicular angle with metatarsals. In the second method, the sole is trimmed to create a slope, with the whole axial sole being lower than the abaxial side. The most common methods are the Functional and White Line methods (both flat methods), and the Kansas method. Variations of these methods differ in the extent of horn removed underneath the flexor tuberosity to decrease pressure on the location where sole ulcers occur. Decreasing the pressure in this fashion is a technique known as modeling. The most common hoof-trimming method worldwide is based on the functional method developed by Dr. Touissant Raven. This method is a three-step procedure of functional (preventive) trimming, followed by two steps of corrective (therapeutic) trimming to address the treatment of horn lesions.

Data is lacking to indicate that any one hoof-trimming method is more effective than another in preventing hoof lesions. More important than focusing on a specific hoof-trimming method, however, is ensuring that hoof trimming is done strategically and meets the needs of the cow. Hoof trimming should not harm the cow if she is not lame, and it should improve lameness if the cow was lame before hoof trimming. The lack of scientific evidence for hoof-trimming methods means that wide variations in methods exist and harmful errors occur. Hoof-trimming errors can be categorized into overtrimming and undertrimming. Some common examples of errors include trimming the toes too short or the sole too thin, excessively trimming the non-weight-bearing heel or the abaxial wall, and removing the axial wall of the toe area.

Importance of Hoof Lesion Records in Cattle

Uniformity in the diagnoses of hoof lesions and the adoption and use of standard definitions are essential from a management, monitoring, and communication standpoint. The dairy industry has attempted to standardize the definition and diagnosis of hoof lesions by visual appearance, location, and severity. Although several hoof lesion identification systems have been developed worldwide, the ICAR Claw Health Atlas was published to standardize lesion definitions across the world. This atlas lists a wide range of lesions; typically, only the most common lesions that occur in a system need to be recorded for management purposes.

Recording hoof lesion data does not have to be complicated or overly detailed for practical use on the farm. Whether handwritten or electronic methods are used for record keeping, the data recorded should include cow ID, diagnosed hoof lesion or cause of lameness, and treatment. This basic information allows for proper management of individual cows, assessments at the herd level, and monitoring of a herd’s lameness status. The current trend in intensive dairy systems is to move toward electronic record-keeping software systems. These systems should interface with herd management software to enable the personnel doing the hoof trimming to evaluate lesion history and administer treatment promptly while the cow is in the chute, rather than having to review records at a separate time and bring her back in once treatment decisions are made.

Hoof lesion records can also be used at an industry level for disease surveillance, animal welfare programs, and genetic improvement. In the dairy industry, for example, hoof lesion records need to be recorded and used at the farm level to develop, tailor, and guide the components of a hoof health program (eg, foot-bathing frequency, strategic trimming lists). For effective record keeping, it is essential that these hoof health records be combined with individual-cow data such as parity, stage of lactation, and production, similar to the way that udder health is recorded and linked to reproductive performance. Combining the different sources of data can enable the assessment of hoof lesion trends over time, by lactation group, by timing of the first lesion occurrence, by repeated events or recurrence (to assess chronicity), and by seasonality. Moreover, hoof health data should be accessible and available to the farm’s advisors, enabling better communication between all stakeholders in a farm’s lameness program.

Key Points

  • Hoof trimming, regardless of the method, should focus on preventing lameness by restoring weight balance between both hooves.

  • A strategic hoof-trimming program is important to prevent lameness and to manage cows with a history of lesions.

  • Keeping records of hoof lesions is an important component of managing lameness at the farm and industry levels.

For More Information

  • Hoof lesion identification guide: ICAR Claw Health Atlas:

  • Hoof-trimming videos:

  • For identifying common trimming errors: AABP Factsheet: Assessing a Herd Hoof-Trimming Program

  • Scientific articles:

    • Stoddard GC, Cramer G. A review of the relationship between hoof trimming and dairy cattle welfare. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract. 2017;33:365-375.

    • Kofler J. Computerised claw trimming database programs as the basis for monitoring hoof health in dairy herds. Vet J. 2013;198:358-361. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2013.06.009

    • Raven ET, Haalstra RT, Peterse DJ, Lurvink A. Cattle Footcare and Claw Trimming: The Origin and Prevention of the Necrotising Inflammations of the Corium (Ulcerations of the Claw). Farming Press; 1985.

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