27 March 1998

Foot-trimmer advocates DIY between visits

By Jeremy Hunt

LANCASHIRE contract foot-trimmer Brian Knowles admits to having an approach to his business that others may find unusual.

Unlike some who ply his trade he encourages dairy farmers to undertake basic trimming of their cows feet in between his visits.

"In this time of cutting costs many dairy farmers are neglecting cows feet for too long. I feel it is much easier to justify the case for regular and effective foot care by a professional if farmers are also prepared to perform some basic foot maintenance," he says.

Mr Knowles works two to three days a week visiting dairy farms in the Fylde area of Lancashire and spends the rest of his time working with his father running the familys dairy herd at Latus Hall Farm, Inglewhite, near Preston.

A foot-trimmer for 14 years, he was only the fifth person in the UK to achieve the official Dutch qualification in foot-trimming.

As a guide he reckons a 100-cow herd should be able to keep its cows feet in good order with routine visits every two months for about £800 a year. But much depends on the condition of the feet at the start, and that is something he has strong feelings about. "While I encourage dairy farmers to do some routine trimming in-between my visits when it is necessary, the biggest problem they face is the equipment they use.

"Most cattle crushes are totally unsuitable for efficient foot trimming. Their design is completely wrong for attending to cows feet and, along with using blunt paring knives, usually ends up with feet in an even worse condition than when they started. I know manufacturers will not want to hear this, but designers of cattle crushes give little if any consideration to the requirements of foot-trimming.

"If I have to do an emergency call-out and have to use the crush on the farm I find it extremely awkward to get at the cows feet properly because the animal is surrounded by metal bars in areas where there should be access to trim the feet.

"There are just too many bars and gates in the wrong positions; they make it impossible to handle the foot at the right angle. That is one reason why so many farmers find it hard to trim feet properly."

Mr Knowles has now designed his own cattle crush and has just completed a second, which is for sale. The lightweight frame has been designed to keep metalwork as uncomplicated as possible. The crush combines strength with maximum accessibility for foot-trimming and can be partly dismantled for transport within 2min.

And blunt paring knives used by farmers are equally a cause for concern. "A paring knife should be kept sharp for the benefit of cow and trimmer and should be kept in a cover and used only for cows feet not for cutting baler twine and 101 other jobs. Blunt knives do more harm than good," insists Mr Knowles.

Not attending to foot problems has proved a false economy on many farms he has visited this winter. Herds that have delayed calling in the foot-trimmer are often faced with higher costs and foot problems that take longer to recover. The knock-on effect can be further losses caused by depressed milk yield and possibly discarded milk after antibiotic treatment.

"On farm visits where I might usually have to block two or three feet I have been up to eight and nine in one herd this winter. I have even broken my record by putting 13 blocks on a single visit to one herd.

"I never imagined I would have so many in one herd, but it was a man who had tried to cut costs and had not had the foot-trimmer on the farm for five months. I would normally have been called out to that farm every eight weeks."

Mr Knowles charges £5.50 for two back feet and £8.50 for all four feet, not including blocking. "To deal with 20 cows with back feet problems costs £110; if those cows are in a very poor state than you can be running into £200-£300 plus the added risk to knocked joints, as cows with bad feet move awkwardly around the cubicles, and the likely loss in yield."

Cow foot care is bound to become a welfare issue and many farmers are already aware that Ministry of Agriculture dairy hygiene inspectors are venturing further than the parlour and checking cows and cubicles.

"In an ideal situation a foot-trimmer can keep on top of foot problems with a routine visit every four to six weeks. But in between visits it is important that any interim problems are dealt with by the farmer and not left to deteriorate."

Only 10% of Mr Knowles clients have routine visits. Most of the business consists of "fire brigade" call-outs. He believes no herd should be left more than three months between visits. &#42

Contract foot trimmer Brian Knowles: "Dairy farmers are neglecting cows feet for too long."

Foot trimming in action using the home-designed crush, which allows maximum accessibility.