Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A day at the spa...for cows?

Ladies, how do you feel after an afternoon at the spa or nail salon? Your nails are done, feet are smooth and you usually have a better outlook, right?

Photo credit: Gould's Salon Spa

Did you know cows also are pampered with this treatment? Now, they don't go to the salon or spa for it. Usually the hoof trimmer, who is trained to work on cows' hooves, comes directly to the farm.

Cows are on their feet a lot, but they also spend about half of their day laying down and relaxing. Just as people's nails grow over time and other conditions occur, such as corns or calluses, the hoof trimmer looks at the overall health of cows' feet.

Photo credit: Ironmines Veterinary Clinic
This is the type of hoof trimming chute we used. The bands under the cow's stomach help support and balance her and each leg is lifted individually so the hoof trimmer can work on it without being kicked

Dairy cows generally have this done regularly, but beef cows also get the royal treatment. Our beef cows are on grass and only have one small slab of concrete near the feed bunk so they tend to not have very many issues. Recently, my favorite cow Hannah wasn't walking properly and wasn't putting weight on a particular leg like she usually would. This is a good indication that there's something wrong. My brother called the hoof trimmer and he came out to check on her, trim her hooves and evaluate if there were any other issues. While he was there, the hoof trimmer also worked with some of our other cows.

Cows getting a bath at the fair. Cows needed to look their best for show day!

I worked for the university dairy farm while I was in college and also served as the cow comfort manager for the student group managing a herd of dairy cattle on campus. One of my duties was to assess the overall condition of the cows throughout their lactations, identify and treat any issues related to hoof health and maintain the overall comfort of the cows. Whenever a cow got a wart on her feet that caused her discomfort, I would treat it. If a cow wasn't walking properly, I'd bring her into the vet room to look at her hooves and assess if there is something wrong that needed treatment. I also coordinated the hoof trimmers visit and prepared the list of cows that needed to be seen and if they had any pre-existing issues that he needed to be aware of.

Time for hair cuts! Before each fair, we gave our show cows hair cuts to help them look their best for the judges. This was my Holstein heifer, Allie.

Just as a regular trip to the salon is a part of your wellness plan to keep you looking and feeling good, a regular visit with the hoof trimmer keeps cows feeling their best.

Wellness includes so many things, not just feet. Nutrition is also a key component. I've been working with a personal trainer the last few months and sometimes I wish I had a personal dietitian with me whenever I'm about to eat something to make sure that it's the healthiest choice. It would be even better if they mixed up and plated the meal for me so I didn't have to think about it. While this is only a dream for me, it's reality for dairy cows. Dairy farmers work with several professionals, including an animal nutritionist, to keep cows in tip top shape.


The nutritionist balances the cows' diet based on their stage of lactation and how much energy they need. This means there will be several rations created for cows at different stages of lactation and other rations for calves, heifers (the teenagers) and dry cows (the cows on vacation for 60 days before having their calves). Several feeds are combined into a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) to create this unique balance of nutrients the cows need. These feeds can include but are not limited to corn silage, soybean meal, alfalfa hay, distillers grain, a vitamin and mineral package specifically designed for the cows, and more.  Protein, carbohydrates and fat are balanced, as are vitamins and minerals. How much digestible fiber is in the ration? What percent is indigestible fiber? And so on. It's truly a science.

The nutritionist prepares a recipe with ingredients and the amount that needs to be added for a particular group of cows. Water is also added in a specified amount to make the ration stick together and be more palatable for cows. Think of it as a casserole. A dry casserole generally isn't that great.

Beef cows don't need as much energy in their diet since their purpose is to add muscle for beef instead of producing milk. We don't hire a nutritionist for our beef cattle, but we do keep a close eye on what they are eating. In the summer, they love being out on pasture eating the lush green grass. While they're lounging in the fields, my brother and his crew are working hard making hay (more about that process here) for them to eat in the winter when the grass isn't growing. We've supplemented them with corn and other nutrients in the past, but it's generally grass.

What's included in your wellness plan?


This post was sponsored by The Glass Barn, which is funded by the Indiana Soybean Checkoff. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

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