An effective foot crush set-up can help ease the challenge of foot trimming, and it should be sited in a position where there is a cattle-free working area around it. Debbie James reports.
Foot trimming is one of the most important jobs on a dairy farm, but too often the job is made challenging because the crush is not correctly positioned.
A cow faced with a solid wall as she enters the crush will panic as there is no visible escape route. This will make the operator’s job more difficult.
DairyCo extension officer, Richard Davies, says a crush should always point to where the cow wants to go and not a wall. “There needs to be a holding pen and a race leading up to the crush and also out of it, as well as an obvious exit route so that once the job is done, the animal can exit immediately,” he says.
Ideally, the layout should include a small yard with a race filtering off it to trap the first cow at the front. The foot crush should be positioned at the end of that race. The best foot trimming crushes, says Mr Davies, are very open to allow the operator to work but this can cause problems with cows getting legs trapped if they are lively. “It’s important to keep the cow as calm as possible and the right layout is key to this,” he adds.
And there should be an easy method of diverting cows as they emerge from the parlour.
Mr Davies advocates a permanently sited crush, bolted to the floor to prevent it tipping over. It should have a sound floor and should be sited in a position where there is a cattle-free working area around it. “A level surface is best but some crushes work best pointing slightly up hill,” he explains.
“I’ve been to farms where gates and hurdles are used to create a makeshift crush but this is dangerous and makes foot trimming a miserable and less efficient job. As a consequence it is less likely to get done,” he says.
The crush should have a wide bellyband and a gripped floor, with front foot blocks and a hind limb winch. There should be open access to hind and front feet and hinged gates at the rear.
John Booth’s dual purpose handling facility at Rhual Dairy, Mold, has been in place since 1964, but 10 years ago he bought a dedicated foot crush. This sits adjacent to the static crush and both have access to the same holding pens either side.
Mr Booth recommends securing the foot crush to the floor. “Our crush isn’t secured and recently a cow got a bit lively when she was having her feet trimmed and pushed it over. The crush is quite old now because we bought it second hand and it’s not as strong as it was so we have ordered a new, heavier model and will be bolting it to the floor,” says Mr Booth, who runs a 300-cow herd.
“We have the foot trimmer in every six weeks and we sort out problems in between so it’s important to have good, safe facilities.”
John Owen, farm manager at Gelli Aur College Farm in Carmarthenshire, advises against a dual-purpose handling and foot crush. Such a system was installed at the dairy when a new parlour was built for the 500-cow herd two years ago.
“If I was doing it again I would go for a dedicated foot crush. When something is designed to be multi purpose it is by its very nature a compromise,” admits Mr Owen.
“Our system has got the usual straps and foot lifting mechanism but the biggest problem we have is that there is not enough clearance in the crush for the operator.”
However, he is pleased with the layout and the handling area. “We have set it up so that the cow enters the crush as she is exiting the parlour, which means she is reasonably calm,” he says.
Good lighting in the foot trimming area should not be overlooked, says Mr Davies. He also recommends investing in the right tools for the job. “If a farmer is trimming cows’ feet, he should have a set of good-quality knives and a sharpening wheel. It makes it half the job,” he says.
“A decent set would cost between £400 and £500, which is less than the value of a single cow, and they will last a lifetime.”