FIGURE 1. Enough slack needs to be left in the head rope so that the head will not be held up in the air when the animal is lying down.

Many farriers have been called on from time to time to trim or shoe bovine feet. Show cattle, milk cows, bulls, oxen, family pets or other herd members are all possible candidates. Without cattle handling experience, this can be very difficult or next to impossible.

Trimming dairy cows is a whole different business. Professional trimmers have their own portable chutes mounted onto trucks or trailers. They have power equipment and special tools to make production work easy. They are good at their profession. In Japan, two-thirds of the farriers’ associations are “cow claw” trimmers. But how do we handle a big steer without all that specialized equipment?

We have trimmed only one bovine on which we could pick up all four feet as we would expect to do with a horse.

Our objective here is to show how we would lay a bovine down and control it to trim its feet.

Start At The Head

Tie the head to a big, solid post, leaving enough slack — say 5 or 6 feet — so that when the animal is down, the head is not up in the air (Figure 1). The animal needs to lay flat on its side with plenty of clearance for working room all around. A 1,600-pound bovine can snap or break a rope with a shake of its head, so the strongest ropes need to be used.


FIGURE 3. Strong, steady pressure on the rope will eventually tip the animal to the ground.


FIGURE 2. A bowline loop is placed around the Longhorn’s shoulders and a half-hitch is looped around the flanks.

We use 40 feet of 5/8-inch-thick nylon rope and put a bowline loop around the bovine’s neck (Figure 2) or around its girth. This is to secure the rope so it will not pull over the hips and slide off. Then we use a half hitch around the flanks.

With the head tied solidly, two people pull on the rope from behind, keeping up the pressure until the back end of the bovine becomes paralyzed and the animal tips over (Figure 3). You must also keep the pressure on during the trimming, or the animal will get up.


FIGURE 4. With one toe of the foot trimmed, you can see how much needs to be taken off the toe on the other side.

If the animal does not go down — or if it gets up — you are not pulling hard enough.

Teaming Up For Speed

Once the bovine is down, it is time to go to work. We always work together as a team, so it doesn’t take much time. Keeping the animal down for very long can cause distress and is extremely hard on fat cattle. You need to watch its breathing and sweating to know when to let it up. We may let the animal get up half-way through the job to avoid stress and give him a rest. (We usually need one too!)


FIGURE 5. Bovine feet can be trimmed with just a nippers and hoof knife. A rasp is not needed.

We would never pull down pregnant heifers as it may cause them to abort. Remember, the flank rope must be held good and tight at all times. This prevents the animal from getting up and you from getting your jaw kicked off while you are trimming.

Trimming Differences

Trimming bovine feet is a little different than trimming horses’ hooves. The cloven bovine hoof is harder to hold solidly. Just trim the hoof wall or shell (Figure 4). Make the toe lengths match. We only use a hoof knife to scrape away defoliated sole and dirt.

Be conservative. If you make the feet sore, they can bleed easily. This is no different than trimming a goat, but is on a larger scale. It is all quite simple, but does take practice. If you can trim a horse, then this is a breeze.

Using the back of a knife to scrape the sole will make the hoof wall more identifiable. Nippers are the only other thing we use (Figure 5). We don’t rasp, as the foot is not flat anyway.


FIGURE 7. Finished feet. Note that the toes on each foot are the same length.


FIGURE 6. Long toes like these need to be trimmed back.

Make sure the lengths match while the animal is down, because after you let the animal up, you will be unable to make a change.


BIG JOB. This 6-year-old Longhorn is owned by Harley Craig, of Calimesa, Calif. Trimming the hooves on an animal this size is a real challenge.

Observe the feet before starting. One toe may be longer than its mate. Trim the long toe first. The shorter toe may not need trimming at all (Figure 6).

To let the animal up, loosen both the flank rope and head rope (Figure 7). You are finished! (Picture #7).

We must caution that this method should not be used with horses!

Lee Green is a certified journeyman farrier with more than 40 years of horseshoeing experience. He is a member of the International Horseshoeing Hall Of Fame and is the owner of The Shoein’ Shop, in Yucaipa, Calif. His son, Porter, is also a farrier.