Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hoof trimming Part I: Why We Do It.

Up until now, my steer project has been pretty routine:  choosing the steer, getting him up to weigh-in weight and beginning to halter train him.  Since I also run Cross Country, I'm glad the fall is "slow" time for 4-H.

Now that it's January, the season to really start preparing George for the Central Florida Fair is beginning. The first step in getting him ready is hoof-trimming.  There is a very generous man who comes to the property of my 4-H leader and does hoof-trimming for all of the steer project kids. On the same day, we also weigh the steers on a scale at the property.

Why do we trim hooves?  If you look at the hoof of a cow, it is split into two parts, which, like our finger nails, grows at a rather alarming rate.  That's just fine if the steer is in a grass field, where the hoof can flex and spread out, but at the Fair, he will have to walk most of the time on concrete.  Since the concrete doesn't "give" the way grass does, the points of the hooves can push into each other and be uncomfortable for the steer.  By trimming the hooves of the steer, we make it comfortable for him to walk on a variety of surfaces.

Even though the machine above looks rather scary, it is actually very safe for the steer.  It starts out vertical, so you can lead your steer into the chute. Once his head comes out the other end, the gate closes gently on his neck to keep him still, and the straps underneath him gently lift him up off the ground. Once the steer is secure, the chute lifts the steer and turns him on his side, like in the picture above.  In this position the hoof-trimmer can see clearly what he's doing, and the steer feels calmer and is safer.  Once he's done, the chute lowers again and the steer can just walk out.

Another good reason for the hoof-trimming is it gives me a chance to take George some place in a trailer, lead him in new surroundings, and get him used to being someplace besides our farm.

Because this is the first "outing" since weigh-in, hoof-trimming is an opportunity to get a feel for how the steer will react in unfamiliar surroundings.  Sometimes a steer will be just great at home, but when you get him to the Fair and things are new and unfamiliar, the steer can freak out a little and act up. I experienced this last year with my steer Brother.  By the time the Fair gets here, George will weigh at least 1100 pounds (he weighed 957 at hoof trimming), so I want to know if he freaks out in strange settings!

If this year's hoof trimming is any indication, George should be just fine at the Fair.  A few of the other steers were hard to handle, but George was almost perfect.

In fact, the other steers gave us a bit of an adventure that day, but that story is for another time.

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