A West Yorkshire couple have found cattle foot trimming a worthwhile calling. Ben Barnett finds out what it entails.
A couple with a passion for a hardy breed of cattle have found a niche line of work that puts them at the sharp end of animal welfare.
Mandy Cameron and Robert Bradley travel the country trimming cows’ feet under the name of Yorkshire Foot Trimmers.
They keep Highland cattle of their own on their self-supporting hobby farm, Moorside Fold at Mountain, Queensbury, but started trimming all breeds of the beasts four years ago.
All cows should routinely have the underside of their feet checked to stay on top of infection and disease.
Mandy says: “It’s very difficult for a farmer to keep up everything they have to do so that’s what we are here for; particularly at this time of year when they have got the haymaking to do. For beef cattle it’s recommended they have a trim every six months and for dairy cattle checks are advised every month.”
One at a time, cattle are herded into a portable cattle crush, secured and turned sideways so their feet are in easy reach. Most of the time, the trims are routine but there have been occasions when a vet has been called out to amputate a foot to save a cow with an infection.
“Foot rot is a bad one and so is toe necrosis,” Mandy says.
Without going into the gruesome details, the result of an infection is lameness, which effects the animal’s mobility and reduces its productivity.
Mandy explains: “If cows don’t walk properly, they don’t feed as well or milk as well, they don’t bother with their young as much and it affects the farmers’ business.
“There’s a real knock-on effect – if you had a stone in your shoe and you had to walk to the shop for your tea you wouldn’t bother would you?”
She estimates that the cost of a single case of lameness, in lost milk production, reduced fertility, increased risk of culling and treatment costs, is £180.
“It’s amazing how the health of feet can affect so much that encompasses keeping cows,” she says.
To her knowledge, Mandy is the only female foot trimmer in the country to operate commercially.
“I do get some funny looks by farmers who ask where the foot trimmer is and how I am going to handle that bull? If you’re calm with an animal, generally they’re calm with you. That’s the key because they feed off your nerves.
“I’ve been kicked but you learn to get out of the way faster. Generally, when they are on their side they stay calm.”
So why foot trimming?
“We couldn’t find one ourselves,” Mandy said.
“They’re difficult to come by for horned cattle and bulls especially. We did find a chap eventually but we weren’t particularly keen with the job he did. We thought it was a job for someone who cares about the animals so we did our training and set up on our own.”
Mandy, who is originally from Freckleton near Blackpool and used to run The Treadmill gym in Halifax, had little farmyard experience before meeting Robert and going into the foot trimming business, other than a brief stint milking cows on a farm as a teenager.
Despite the odd bruise and long hours the job is rewarding, Mandy says.
“We go down to Grantham, to South Shropshire and we do the width of the country. We’ve been up as far as Newcastle and Leyburn.
“It’s hard work. We work seven days a week, start at 5am and aren’t home until 10.30pm most days but there’s a satisfaction you don’t get with any other job.
“When you get a lame cow in the crusher and fix it up it’s a fantastic feeling, and we get to go some gorgeous places.”
Their reputation has grown and most new customers now approach them after they’ve been recommended by an existing customer. On a “holiday” at the Great Yorkshire Show this month, the couple had farmers coming to see them to say thanks for a job well done, which Mandy says meant a lot.
Show season offers some respite from the day job.
Mandy and Robert show some of their sheep and Highland cattle which they keep on a 13-acre plot at 1,220 ft above sea level. The name of the village the couple call home, Mountain, is certainly apt, with the land offering a panorama stretching for 90 miles in all directions.
“It’s harsh up here in winter. We get blown out of the ring feeders and you can’t open a five-bar gate you have to climb over it otherwise you’ll get catapulted. When it snows it’s six inches thick and last year we had our first snowfall on August 17, but we just get on with it because we’ve got animals to feed.
“When we had the bad snow at the beginning of the year, we had some bulls at the other end of the moor. We brought them back to put them in their pens and had to start digging our way to them at 8am. We didn’t get them back until 3pm.”
In total, they keep one ewe, one tup, four lambs, 12 Highlands and 100 chickens. The poultry is sold on when they’re ready for laying.
Their prize Highland is a bull named Ishtar because it was born at Easter. It has won numerous championships and the North of England Cattle Breeders’ Club’s Female of the Year title.
A black haired Highland bull called Roland the Roadie – a reference to the original breeder’s musical tastes – has been named a Champion at the Chelford Show.
The couple’s most successful animal was a home bred Highland bull known as Frank. He won an incredible 27 championships and now lives on a farm in Easingwold.
Mandy, 41, and Robert, 49, are committee members of the North of England Highland Cattle Breeders’ Club and the Scottish natives are ideal for their land.
Mandy says: “Commercial breeds couldn’t survive here at winter so native breeds are the way to go and Highlands are the hardiest. They’re good at cleaning up the land because they eat a lot of vegetation that others won’t. They don’t have to be housed in winter. They prefer it outside. For this land they are the perfect beast.”
Robert has farmed all his life and started showing before he met Mandy. Born and bred in Queensbury, he used to live on his father’s farm 500 yards away.
It may be wind battered and exposed to the elements but the land here is a luxury, says Mandy.
“I couldn’t work inside now. Where else could you have an ‘office’ like this?
“We don’t get much wildlife up here because the conditions are so harsh but we do get a few kestrels and because the land is steep you can be looking at it at level with its eyes. We also get an owl that sits on a gate post. It’s those little, quiet things that make it all worthwhile.”