The art of hoof, feather trimming

ANKENY – Griffieon family members wielded scissors, nippers, clippers and electric grinders during a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day June 19 devoted to livestock grooming.

LaVon and Craig Griffieon, along with adult offspring Autumn, Phil and Julia, staged on a do-it-yourself clinic of animal grooming methods to both enhance appearances and ensure better safety and health for chickens, sheep, horses and cattle at their rural Ankeny farm.

The younger generation of Griffieons is the fifth to live in the house and the sixth to occupy the land at the 1868 Century Farm.

All of the Griffieon children have or are working on their ag degrees and “would probably like to be farming,” said their mother, but the farm is being hemmed in by urban sprawl.

In the meantime, they run a diversified operation that includes corn, soybeans, alfalfa and sweet corn, as well as beef, chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep and horses.

LaVon Griffieon kicked off the evening by leading the PFI group past a pen of chickens – and three escapees. The chickens outside the fence were Ameraucanas, she said, and “There is no fence tall enough and no wings short enough to keep them in.”

“Ameraucanas are just crazy,” LaVon Griffieon said. “They’ll use their beaks like they’re climbing a mountain” to scale a fence.

Husband Craig cradled a chicken while she used scissors to deftly cut through the flight feathers. Although some people insist on only clipping one wing, “that’s never worked for me,” she said.

LaVon Griffieon also doesn’t subscribe to the pinioning method, which involves cutting the bone.

Asked how to know if someone has cut too deeply when snipping feathers, she said, “If you can see blood, you overdid it.”

In addition to hosting the PFI field day, LaVon Griffieon is also involved in on-farm research for the organization with her chicken operation.

Autumn Ogden demonstrated manual hoof trimming for sheep and horses. In both cases, she used nippers meant for horse hooves.

Although there are hoof trimmers made specifically for sheep, she said she uses the nippers “because that’s what I’ve got.”

Some ewes are more prone to hoof problems, Ogden said. “But you learn which ones are your problem ewes.”

She said she checks her sheep’s hooves if and when they display any lameness, but that she didn’t have any hoof problems last year.

“We put some rock base down where they drink water, so they were walking on that rock and it wore the hooves down on their own.”

Getting her Katahdin ram onto its haunches to get access to the hooves required some help from sister Julia. She turned the ram’s head toward its hindquarters while Ogden put a foot behind its back feet and they lowered him onto his butt in a sitting position.

Her bible on sheep care, she said, is “Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep.”

Grooming her horses’ hooves included the use of an adjustable hoof jack or hoof stand that works with various-sized horses and switches from a hoof cradle to a hoof post to provide support for the horse. The one she uses also has tool magnets along the side to keep nippers and files close at hand.

“Kind of like with sheep,” Ogden said, “where your horses live is important. Their diet affects their hooves, and what they eat affects their hooves.”

In the wild, mustangs tend to travel up to 20 miles a day, she said. But domestic horses fall far short of that distance and need help maintaining their hoof health.

She demonstrated aspects of natural hoof care that allow the hoof to wear down naturally.

However, Ogden said, even she sometimes requests assistance from a farrier, trained in the same method, to help her shape the hoof. The goal of natural hoof care, which doesn’t include the use of shoes, is to allow the hoof to expand and contract naturally.

She employed a hoof pick to clean out the hooves, and – while wearing gloves – a hoof knife to do some trimming, along with her nippers and finally a file, which should be dragged in one direction only.

Her dad got back into action after siblings Julia and Phil used a homemade turntable to tip a calf onto its side for grooming.

“This is the only way you can really tip a cow,” said LaVon Griffieon.

“When you’re showing cattle,” Craig Griffieon said, “you want them up on their toes.”

He used a pair of electric grinders to trim away the extra growth and level off the calf’s hooves so they were flat across.

Craig Griffieon continued with electric tools as he groomed a heifer in a blocking chute, using two sets of clippers.

He methodically explained, as he demonstrated, how to trim and block an animal to display its best features.

Skillful blending of shorter and longer hair in strategic places can enhance the animal’s strong features and help mask less desireable ones, he said.