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Man Trims Cows' Hooves for a Living

By Dee Goerge

photography by Jean Sowders

Ask Caleb Spencer what his day was like and he'll likely tell you, as he peels off clothing soiled with cow dung and inspects sunburned arms, that he got kicked in the ribs.

But these minor nuisances are all in a day's work for Spencer, 23, who trims cows' hooves for a living.

"I love cows, and I'm really surprised at the number of the people who raise cattle who don't know what trimmers should and shouldn't do," says Spencer, who raised 4-H dairy cows as a youngster.

He began his career at 19 by creating his own yearlong apprentice program with the Hoof Trimmers Association and working with the professionals.

He left his Franklin, Ind., home for a travel trailer that took him around the country, including Utah, where he and a six-man crew trimmed 1,600 cows in nine days.

A year later, with used equipment, Spencer was ready to venture out on his own.

Now, three years later and amid bawling cows, Spencer's hands and clothes are coated after just a handful of cows have been trimmed. As messy as it is, Spencer's equipment makes the process much easier - for him and the cow.

Each cow is led into Spencer's panel system and belted to his layover table - a hydraulic unit that allows him to safely secure the animal. He tilts the table to move the cow off her feet, then secures each foot individually with a rope attached to the table.

Spencer works carefully to keep each cow calm and safe. Once on the table, most cows tend to calm down.

After cleaning and trimming a hoof with a titanium carbide bit trimmer, he might discover an abscess. He'll clean and treat the infected area with an antibiotic, and wrap the hoof with an adhesive bandage.

If the hoof isn't healed when Spencer returns in six months, he'll repeat the treatment then.

He'll finish up by carefully trimming the cow's remaining hooves. "You want to shape the cow's feet so she's balanced and comfortable," Spencer says.

When he's finished, Spencer unties the feet, flips a lever to turn the table, and sets the cow back on its feet. He unbelts her, guides her out of his gate/panel system, and leads in the next cow.

Spencer can trim 50 or 60 cows a day by himself with this setup.

"The most difficult part is getting the farmer to trust me to work on his cows, because of my age," Spencer says. "I tell them, 'I'll trim five of your lamest cows for free. If you're not happy, I'll pack up my stuff.' I've never had anybody tell me to go."

Spencer enjoys the benefits his job offers - working in the country, being around animals - but it has its challenges, too. He gets kicked; sometimes his fingers are numb from tendinitis; and his lanky body understands backaches.

But his passion has not fazed. "For now," he says, "I don't see myself doing anything else."