Dairy Cattle Hoof Trimming


The reason cows become lame can be quite complex, as many of the factors are interrelated. However, the main reason cows become lame is most often related to cows walking on hooves (claws) with a compromised or unbalanced weight bearing surface.

Overloading the cow’s claw due to excessive wear or overgrowth can create a claw that is sensitive, unstable and more prone to lameness. Therefore, cows’ feet need to be checked and trimmed for two reasons:

  • Restoration of appropriate weight bearing within and between the claws of each foot
  • Early identification of claw lesions

It is important to note that not all cows examined will require trimming, as over-trimming can result in greater incidence of lameness.

Four-Step Hoof Trimming Technique

Proper claw trimming forms the foundation of a comprehensive foot health program. By recognizing certain claw trimming fundamentals, one can help reduce the risk of lameness caused by claw trimming miscues.

Following is an overview of the four-step functional claw trimming procedure, which is a slight modification of the original Dutch three-step procedure developed by E. Toussaint Raven. Each and every foot of the cow should be approached under this four-step process during claw evaluations to avoid over-trimming. This functional trimming process can be used to treat claw lesions. It is highly recommended that all claw trimming done on a dairy be conducted only by trained personnel.

Step 1: Toe Length

  • Start by measuring from the front wall (just below the hairline to the tip of toe) of the inside claw on the hind feet.
  • Any claw length longer than 3 inches (7.5 cm) should be removed by making a cut perpendicular to the sole. This leaves a square end on the toe.
  • First trim the inside claw on hind feet to the correct length, then trim the outside claws to match. Repeat this process when trimming the front feet, starting with the outer claw first.

Related trimming tip: three inches (7.5 cm) is the appropriate toe length for an average Holstein cow. For large cows and bulls, appropriate toe length is 3.25 inches (8.125 cm). Never trim less than 3 inches (7.5 cm), unless it is a young heifer.

Step 2: Sole Thickness

  • Claw length and sole thickness at the toe are directly correlated. Sole thickness should be measured at the tip of the toe where the cut was made. Anything greater than 0.25 inch (0.625 cm) in depth can be removed.
  • Sole should be trimmed flat from front to back. Avoid removing horn from the heel of the inside hind claws. Be sure to leave a sole thickness of 0.25 inch (0.625 cm) at the tip of the toe.
  • Avoid trimming claws that are less than 3 inches (7.5 cm) in length or have less than 0.25 inch (0.625 cm) sole thickness. Typically in these situations, only the outside rear claw needs trimming to correct overgrowth and imbalance.

Related trimming tip: sole thickness should never be less than 0.25 inch (0.625 cm). The sole should not be flexible under finger/thumb pressure.

Step 3: Heel Depth


  • Heel depth should be measured at the heel-wall juncture (outside of claw) from just below the hairline to the bottom of the sole. Only trim horn from the heel when this measurement is more than 1.5 inches (3.75 cm).

Related trimming tip: strive to maintain a heel depth of 1.5 inches (3.75 cm). Cows housed on concrete typically lack heel depth.

Step 4: Claw and Heel Balance

  • A flat, weight-bearing surface between the inner and outer claws should be achieved throughout the trimming process. Caution: soles should not be trimmed so they flex under finger/thumb pressure.
  • Evaluate claw and heel balance: hold front walls of both claws together and place a flat object across both toes, across both heels, and from toe-to-heel on both claws. No light should be visible underneath the flat surface for heel and toe-to-heel measurements.