When a Black Angus Bull Needs a Pedicure…

On Sunday, a lame bull went down while feeding at a round hay bale feeder on my friend’s ranch.  The feeder is made of tubular steel with access for about ten cows, who normally munch on the hay calmly.  However, the scene at the feeder this time must have looked more like a Walmart opening on Black Friday – I could picture cows jostling for space in the cold, snowy night.  The bull, fortunately, was alive but barely conscious, his eyes showing white, his breathing labored, and his ears pivoting toward my voice.  There are few things as sad as seeing a bull in this condition – he reminded me of the time my four-year-old was sick, his normally rambunctious, noisy self reclined in silence on the sofa, watching a borrowed copy of “Homeward Bound” for the umpteenth time.  I would have done anything to hear Brenden return to his boisterous little self!  This time, the male down was bovine.  I would much prefer dodging the bull than kneeling near its motionless head as I did.

Earlier, I had learned the hard way that a cow can swing her head like a wrecking ball.  Back in December, I’d been helping with a cow but hadn’t yet learned to look out for her head and she smacked me in the right shoulder, not out of meanness, but just plain old fear.  Nevertheless, the force of the hit knocked me over and had me literally seeing stars for a few minutes!  I can imagine the force the lame bull must’ve withstood to have him go down like he did.

Since the bull was alive and his rear hooves needed trimming badly, my friend decided it was a good time to trim them.  We’d be able to keep an eye on the bull while tending to his feet.  Now folks, I have never even been that close to an animal’s hooves and I’ve never watched a farrier at work.  In person, at least.  I’d watched lots of You Tube videos on the subject and read about it on the internet but working with the real thing is not quite the same!  However, we got to work with a pair of snips, a file, and a hand-held electric grinder.    We found that the best way to accomplish the task was to use the grinder to etch a shallow groove across the hoof about 3/8″ from the edge, then use the snips to take off that amount of hoof material.  Working a little at a time, the hooves were trimmed, flattened on the bottoms so the bull would stand steadily, cleaned, and filed neatly.

For those of you new to the subject (like me!), a cow’s hoof consists of two “claws”, sort of like two parentheses-shaped halves facing each other.  Normally, they look about the same size and shape, though mirror opposites.  Sometimes, depending on the ground surface and genetics, the hooves can overgrow upward like elves’ shoes or attempt to turn inward and cross each other.  When this happens, it throws off the balance and gait of the animal and can cause problems with joints in its legs and hips.  This poor bull had been in obvious pain just standing and walking.  Mounting a cow (his sole task in the pasture) was out of the question since his full weight would have to rest on those hind feet.

About halfway through the trimming, the bull decided to roll from his side to his belly.  What a beautiful sight that was!  I brought over an armload of hay to the upright animal and he eagerly reached out to grab a mouthful.  My friend and I wondered how he’d react to our continued efforts on his feet, now that he was conscious and aware of his surroundings.  Much to our surprise, he was as content as a woman getting a pedicure!  The bull, who I named Ferdinand, calmly chewed hay while I worked on his feet.  When we were finished, the bull managed to get to his feet and tried out his new hooves.  It was very satisfying to see him walk more easily, more comfortably, and move like a bull should!  Time will tell if he’s up to parenthood, but at least he’s alive, eating well, and moving much better than before.

The next day, the farrier came to trim the two donkeys’ hooves.  (Ranchers in this area keep donkeys with their sheep and cattle herds to ward off coyotes – the protective donkeys kick in all directions at lightning speed.)  After seeing how the farrier worked, I figured we hadn’t done so badly for being self-taught trimmers.  He had MUCH better tools (like sharp snips) and of course he had fifteen years of experience, which we lacked.  But it was gratifying to see that we did pretty well when Ferdinand needed a pedicure.

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