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Livestock podiatry is messy but rewarding

Staff writer

Livestock podiatry is a fancy name for hoof trimming but Mike Ehrlich is a specialist, an expert; Ehrlich is someone who has forgotten more about cow feet than you will ever want to know.

The tools of his trade would be unlikely to give away the nature of his profession; most of his podiatry implements would be more common in a body shop or a hardware store.

He uses a hydraulic lift to get a cow into position. The cow is led through a box-shaped chute where the cow stands in the apparatus. Ehrlich then clamps both sides of the machine and secures the cow with a strap underneath its belly. With the push of a button, the cow is then suspended four feet over the ground on its side, feet facing out toward Ehrlich parallel to the ground.

With his bovine patient in position, he wraps each leg with a metal chain. He then takes a large pick and pries caked-in dirt and grass out of each hoof. If a cow has feet that are overgrown by six or eight inches, which he says is common, he uses a clipper that looks like a limb-lopper. Ehrlich goes to his 24-bit sanding tool to smooth the cow’s hooves.

The job now complete, he lowers the cow to the ground and leads it out of the chute on lead.

In this manner, Ehrlich can work on 40 to 50 cows a day. The fact that he deals with such large quantities of cattle clients makes him much more affordable than a veterinarian, who can do all the same things that Ehrlich can do.

“I’m much cheaper than a vet,” he said.

While he does do some medical treatment for livestock, Ehrlich mostly trims hooves. The largest job he ever worked was in Northeast Missouri. Heartland Farms keeps 3,000 dairy cows there and Ehrlich would come in three days a week for several weeks to work their cattle population.

Ehrlich has been trimming hooves since he worked with Rex and John Siebert in 1978. He worked with the Siebert’s as a summer job and realized, after a short stint at Kansas State University, that livestock podiatry could be a career.

Ehrlich said that his job is mostly cosmetic, cleaning up the feet of cattle for looks. But he said it can be necessary.

“I would compare it to changing oil,” he said. “If a cow’s feet hurt, she won’t milk.”

For anyone thinking that they can do Ehrlich’s job as well as he can, consider this: livestock podiatry was featured on the television show “Dirty Jobs” for a reason. Ehrlich said that most cows struggle when they are on the lift, the spray from the sander can be unpleasant, and the trimmer always has to be wary of manure. There is also a small difference between doing a good job and injuring the animal.

“There’s a fine line between doing a great job and going too far,” Ehrlich said.

Last modified Oct. 29, 2009

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