Justin Addy, professional hoof trimmer of Sartell, Minn., has impacted the comfort of 100,000 cows on 500 dairy farms. About 95 percent of his clients are Holsteins, but he trims all dairy breeds and beef cows when requested.
Being young and muscular like Addy, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall and 250 pounds, is an asset in this physical occupation. Addy deals with yearlings on up to 1,800 pound Holsteins. Getting their “toes clipped” isn’t always a favorite occasion. Once the cow is in the hoof trimming chute and turned on its side so each hoof is readily accessible, the muscle work is mostly over.
At age 37, Addy has been trimming for 12 years, and serves as a marketing representative for the National Hoof Trimming Association. Addy started out managing a dairy after studying dairy farm management at Ridgewater College, Hutchinson, Minn.
“I managed a dairy for about five years but didn’t see that going anyplace,” he said. “But in the process of those five years working a dairy farm, I was always seeing the need for hoof care. I didn’t know anyone doing that work. I finally convinced the dairy farmer I worked for to get a hoof trimmer.
“We got a hoof trimmer who actually trained people in the business. That triggered some interest in me. I ran with him for about three months and then I went on my own.”
Addy continued his education at the Dairyland Hoof Care Institute in Baraboo, Wis. Addy completed both the technical and advanced courses twice to become proficient. Founded by instructor Karl Burgi, Addy said that the training programs also help build motivation.
“You always want to keep improving your education because these dairy farms keep changing; even the cows are changing as part of the genetic and sire selection process. We now provide foot history on every animal we trim,” he said.
Professional hoof trimmers build a database on each animal. Every time Addy revisits a dairy farm — about every seven weeks with many herds — he punches new or different abnormalities on each hoof into his database. He uses the Hoof Supervisor software to keep track of the cows he trims. After each farm visit, Addy leaves a printout of the hoof information for each cow on the farm.
“Usually before I start trimming on these repeats, I post up each cow to quickly review her hoof condition from my previous visit,” he said. “It’s sort of like your doctor looking at your health charts when you’re back for a health check.”
Hoof trimming has been part of the livestock industry in America for centuries. Worldwide, Addy estimated that there may be 3,000 hoof trimmers. In the St. Cloud area, he said there are seven guys making a living trimming hooves, and possibly 40 in Minnesota.
“I learned real quick this is a competitive business. I thought I’d have this work all to myself when I started, but I quickly learned that was not the case. But competition is good,” said Addy. “It keeps us honest, makes us better and teaches us how to thrive regardless the economic challenges out there.”
A dairy farmer pays by the animal for hoof trimming.
“I’m at $12 to $15 per cow plus if needed $5 a wrap and $25 a block,” he said.
Total hoof care is what Addy is all about. The $5 wrap is if an animal has digital dermatitis which requires a special treatment and a wrap to keep the treatment in place. Blocks are applied if there’s an injured hoof or a white line abscess. The block takes the weight off the affected portion of the hoof.
“This helps the healing process and it saves cows like you wouldn’t believe,” said Addy.
The blocks are glued on. Sometimes he uses wood blocks that wear off with time. In a more serious situation, Addy glues on a plastic block which doesn’t wear off and becomes like a permanent imprint for the hoof. Most hoof problems occur on the rear feet.
“The rear feet aren’t connected to muscle like the front feet,” he said. “Plus the rear feet are more likely standing in wetter areas of the stall. Also cows use their back feet for balance so there is much more movement of their rear quarters. When cows slip and go down it’s usually the hind end that crashes.”
Addy averages about 10 cows per hour, but if wraps and blocks are needed, it can easily be 20 to 25 minutes for one cow. He also singes the udders to keep udders clean and minimize bag rot.
Addy drives a pickup truck, pulling his Riley-built hoof trimming chute with tilt table. He often uses four different grinders on each foot, because every grinder has specific advantages. One grinder is used to remove the hoof; another to model the hoof; antler gets that hoof super flat; and a power rasp is needed for a hoof that needs a plastic block.
Each Bosch brand grinder is about $50, but discs are $300-$500 each. Discs contain carbide for extra “cutting strength” but hit a small stone and that disc is history, said Addy. Including his pickup truck, he estimates he has $60,000 invested in his profession.
“I wouldn’t give it up for anything. It costs a lot of money to make money, but this can be a very rewarding business financially,” he said. “I’m usually working six days a week; there’s been an occasional Sunday too if that’s what best fits a particular herd.”
Along the line, Addy has learned how dairy cow bedding affects hoof care and ailments.
“It’s all about consistency, but I’m a fan of sand bedding. It just seems to give them a more comfortable base. There’s some give under their hoofs as they stand up, or when they lie down,” he said. “But every farm is different. Sometimes even every county is different in terms of what they permit for bedding, especially if your dairy farm is adjacent to a creek or river.”
Setting up a schedule for a 200-cow dairy operation can be a challenge.
“Every farm is different but most prefer to trim when cows are dry and at 120 days,” Addy said. “That hoof is more important when the cow is dry because she has the added weight of that unborn calf adding to her total weight. Plus they go through so many changes in body conformation after they calve.
“As dairy farmers get bigger and more cows get into that milk line, scheduling is more of a challenge. On some of my bigger dairy customers I’m out there even once a week to keep everything on schedule, sometimes even twice a week.”
Some dairy farmers have their heifers trimmed before they are bred. Getting started that young makes a difference in terms of the ongoing health of the hooves.
“Nowadays, it’s fairly common for calves to be on concrete from the day they are born,” said Addy. “So if you don’t start trimming until they are milking their feet are likely going to be foundered and that’s going to be pretty hard to fix.”
Heifers’ hooves need to be trimmed because they need flat toes when standing on concrete. Start them out with good feet and the benefits add up and may mean a couple more lactations, he said.
While calves and cows on pasture do tend to exhibit fewer foot problems, time on concrete is inevitable once they get into the milking line.
“When a heifer starts uddering up, she starts rocking back and forth and those toes take a beating on concrete,” said Addy. “It’s good insurance. It costs about $2,000 to raise a heifer up to that first lactation so what’s an extra $12 to $15 to make certain she has good feet under her?”
Justin Addy was interviewed at the Minnesota Dairy Expo in St. Cloud, Minn. For more information visit www.addyhooftrimmingmn.com or call (320) 200-1221.