The Happy Hoofer

Kevin Hinton is a bovine podiatrist skilled at keeping cow's feet healthy. It's not always easy, but he says fixing a cow's ailments is rewarding work.

By Grace Kennedy | May 16, 2022 |5:00 am

It was like he was slicing Gruyère cheese. Kevin Hinton leaned near the cow’s elevated hoof, and with an expert snip of his clippers, exposed a section of creamy white sole. It looked soft, even pliable.

“It’s not,” Hinton said, holding up the forearm-length clippers. “My clippers are just really sharp.”

Clippers aren’t terribly common among hoof trimmers these days—“bovine podiatrists,” if you want to use the technical term—but Hinton doesn’t care. It’s what he learned to use 40 years ago, when he joined his father in Oregon one summer to watch him work. The connection then was electric. Seeing his father snip and clip the overgrown hoof away from the sole made him realize he wanted to do this for the rest of his life.

And he has, more or less. Now 56 years old, Hinton works with a number of barns across the province—he can’t remember exactly how many—to check on the health of his clients’ feet.

“I consider these guys Olympic athletes,” he said. “They produce up to 100 pounds of milk a day. If everything’s not perfect—boom.”

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Most of the time Hinton stays in the Fraser Valley, keeping his local herds on a maintenance schedule so he can check about 25 cows at a time. Twice a year he heads “up country” to the Cariboo to help hobby farmers who can’t get a local hoof trimmer, following a former client who had moved up there years ago. But most days, he heads to farms like Eagle Acres in Langley to keep their herds’ feet healthy.

Kevin Hinton uses clippers to trim the hind hooves of a cow at Eagle Acres in Langley. 📸 Grace Kennedy

Erin and Brian Andersen, who own the educational Langley farm, have worked with Hinton the whole time they’ve had their farm. They started Eagle Acres 23 years ago, and eventually turned it into a destination for people who wanted to learn how food gets from the farm to their plates. At their Glen Valley location, they have a herd of 55 Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, and Guernsey cows—and like most farmers, they do a lot of the heavy lifting themselves. (Brian was busy mucking out the close-up pen for the pregnant cows who were about to give birth while Erin gave The Current a tour of the barn.) But, some things are best left to the professionals.

“Some people do their own hoof trimming and jobs like that… but that’s something we never even attempted to do,” Erin said. “Hoof trimming is a very specific thing as well, and he’s very good at it.

“I don’t want to mess up the cows,” she added. “If you mess up the foundation of an animal, you can ruin it completely.”

That’s why Hinton was there, clipping the hooves of a handful of young cows who had never gone through the experience before.

They were not enjoying it.

One Holstein cow was ushered through a shoot into Hinton’s hoof trimming contraption. The bar clanged shut behind her, and her eyes widened as she struggled forwards and back. Hinton and his assistant raised a thick strap up to the cow’s chest to help support her weight. They then locked her back foot into place at waist height.

“Any cow will go crazy when you’re doing something different to them,” Hinton said, sitting down on the stool near her foot. “They’re definitely creatures of habit; they don’t like nothing different.”

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The contraption is actually what brought Hinton to British Columbia in the first place. It wasn’t common outside of the United States—in fact, Hinton says it was the first of its kind in Canada. He and his dad came to the country for two weeks in the 1980s to show it off. The farmers, Hinton said, were ecstatic. It eventually led Hinton and his father to immigrate to Canada and start their local business in the valley.

The machine is not common in the industry—most of the hoof trimmers of the past used “tilt tables” which, as the name suggests, tilt a cow on its side to expose its hooves to the podiatrist. Young trimmers use equipment called elevators, which raise the cows up to an appropriate level to use a grinder. But, like with the clippers, Hinton is set in his ways.

Hinton’s contraption has a built-in stool on which he can sit while he trims the hind hooves. The machine has a light to illuminate the front hooves in poorly-lit barns. And it has a small cupboard where he keeps his tools: the clippers, a knife, and a bucket of lime green painkillers.

“They walk in not feeling so great and after a couple hours, when you get all that weight off the problem area and you get the painkiller and the antibacterial in there,” Hinton said, trailing off. “Really that’s my favourite part of the job.”

One of the dairy cows at Eagle Acres sniffs a heifer getting her hoofs trimmed for the first time. It’s a necessary, if not always enjoyable, experience for the cows. 📸 Grace Kennedy

Hoof health is directly connected to overall health for cows. A bruised hoof can make a cow lame, reducing her milk production. That is also bad for the farmer.

“If you don’t keep [their hooves] maintained, they can go lame, they go down in production, you can’t feed your family, you go out of business,” Hinton explained.

“If they’re not happy, [the farmers] can’t make a living,” he added. “These cows have to be happy and healthy. Shiny, beautiful, well-conditioned cows.”

Hinton plans to keep up his part of that job for at least the next decade. But eventually, retirement will be on the horizon.

He has no son to take over the business—the succession plan for many in the industry—but he said he plans to see if one of his clients’ kids might be interested in learning the trade. Then, he can turn his tools, his contacts, and his years of industry experience over to them.

“Then my clients will have the same work that they love,” he said. “They don’t hire me for my fancy brand-new shoot and equipment and my fancy truck. They hire me for my experience.

“When you get a good hoof trimmer that you like, he stays for life.”


The Fraser Valley is brimming with niche jobs in the agricultural industry. Check out Joti’s story about alpaca shearing, and what happens to the fleece once the haircuts are done.

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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