By Natasha Lovell – Typical goat hoof trimming should be completed every two to three months, and is a critical component of caring for goats. Usually, this is a routine task that involves little more than some quick cuts with the trimming tool to keep the hoof level and the goat walking comfortably. Occasionally though, more complicated hoof conditions will show up requiring more time, care and sometimes treatment.
For the purpose of this article, I will be instructing on the use of hoof trimmers, like the orange-handled one’s Caprine Supply and Hoegger’s sell in their catalogs. Other good goat supplies to have on hand for this task are hoof rasps (use gloves!) and hoof grinders. I generally don’t use gloves with my hoof rasp, so I end up taking as much skin off my hands with a rasp as I do hoof, but rasps are useful on hard, dry hooves. I personally do not have experience with a grinder.
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The most important thing to do when conducting goat hoof trimming is it to make sure they are secure and unable to move. Putting the goat on a milk stand or grooming stand is very helpful. If one of those is not an option, a snug collar, a strong lead rope or leash, and a solid structure to tie the animal to will work. I often use the T-posts of my fence or the slats of my wooden built-in feeder after I have fed hay. Bribery with a favorite food can help keep the goat calm and cooperative. Goats often kick when the rear legs are handled. Frequent handling can help, but some goats are naturally less cooperative than others.
The parts of the hoof we will be dealing with are the hoof wall, sole and the heels (Picture 1).
Goat Hoof Trimming: Steps for the Overgrown Hoof
This is a simple job (Picture 2). I generally start by scraping out the sole area if it is filled with dirt, and then cutting off the excess hoof walls, starting with the outside wall on each toe, and then the inside wall (Picture 3). Occasionally it’s more effective to use the trimmers to cut both of the walls at the end of the toe, and then cut the rest of each wall individually. Just don’t trim too far down on the toe until you know how deep the sole is. This can result in making your sheep bleed.
When the walls are removed, it is easier to see what else needs to be done. I like to have the goat’s toes just a little longer than the heels, as it seems to be gentler on the pasterns. So, I trim an appropriate amount off the heels (Picture 4), and then trim on the toes until the hoof is level across the sole. Set the foot down to see how she stands every now and then to make sure things look right, and to give the goat a break. When a pinkish tone (light colored hooves) or a very translucent look (dark hooves) becomes visible, that means the growing area is close, and bleeding will occur if cut deeper (Picture 5).
If bleeding happens, don’t worry, many owners have done the same thing. I have trimmed many hooves and I still cut too deep sometimes. Unless it is bleeding excessive, I usually just set the hoof back on the ground or milk stand and let the weight of the goat staunch the bleeding. If it bleeds a lot, cayenne pepper, cornstarch or commercial livestock bloodstop powders applied to the area will help.
More Complicated Hooves: Hoof Wall Separation
Sometimes a hoof will have a gaping hole between the hoof wall and the sole (Pictures 6 & 7). This is a relatively common occurrence you will discover during goat hoof trimming if your goats are kept in wet climates and shows up during the wet, muddy season. Living in western Washington I am surprised when I do not see it on my goats in the spring. In my experience, it causes minimal, if any, discomfort to the animal.
I trim it as far up the hoof as I can, and clean it out (Picture 8). Often I do not treat it with anything at all, but wait for it to heal on its own when the dry season comes around. If I have one that is severe and not healing well, I may use a coconut oil-based comfrey salve in the space, after trimming and cleaning out the dirt. I have a friend who also had good results using the mastitis treatment ToDay in the crack.
Complicated Hooves: Founder/Laminitis
Sometimes during goat hoof trimming, you will notice odd characteristics that can be attributed to laminitis, or founder. When a goat has laminitis, a goat’s hoof will be abnormally long, oddly shaped and either extremely soft, easy to cut hoof tissue, or rock hard, depending on the moisture content of the goat lot or pasture.
The first photo here is of an acute case of founder. Notice the odd lump on the center of the top toe (Picture 9) and the width of the toe. This is a common finding. The hoof is also abnormally long (Picture 10), even though the hoof walls do not look abnormally long. Often caused by overfeeding of grain, or the use of moldy or tainted grain, this can cause lameness, especially in the front hooves. Affected goats will walk less and may adopt standing on their knees in an attempt to move around without using the affected feet (Picture 11). Copper deficiency, in my experience, also appears to contribute to the likelihood of the animal developing founder. This is very treatable, and the affected goat can recover and remain a productive member of the herd.
The best initial treatment is to identify and remove the cause, followed by frequent hoof trimming sessions. For the first trim, take off as much as possible, and make sure to trim it so that the toe is a bit longer than the heel. This seems to give almost immediate relief, as most of the animals I’ve trimmed like this start using the foot better as soon as I set it back down. Sometimes the hoof is a much different consistency than a normal foot. If the goat is in a moist environment, the hoof will be an opaque dead-white color even when trimmed far enough down that she bleeds, and it will be extremely soft, unlike the rubbery sole of the healthy goat (Picture 12 – compare to Picture 5). Notice on this goat that the one toe/heel is also more swollen than the other (Picture 13). They should be about the same width.
After the first trim, it seems to work the best for the goat to trim every two weeks until the abnormal growth and swelling subside. Once the acute phase is over, monitor the goat to see how often trimming is needed to keep her healthy and walking. It might help to use a rasp as the hoof will become rock hard when it dries out.
Another odd characteristic I often find with founder are what I call “blood spots” (Pictures 14 & 15). Occasionally it occurs in a non-foundered goat, but the animal usually has a recent history of being stressed metabolically (i.e. exceptional milk producer who was pushed for volume). The spots look like a bruise, but do not seem to be exceptionally more sensitive than the surrounding hoof. They come in various shapes, sizes and severity, and most can be removed with proper goat hoof trimming.
Goat Hoof Trimming: Hoof Rot
The work of a pair of “anaerobic” bacteria (bacteria that must live in an environment without oxygen), foot rot can be a goatkeeper’s nightmare. The bacteria begin eating away the hoof in between the heels (Pictures 16 & 17), sometimes up into the skin of the pastern. The photographed cases appear to be caused by a mild strain, as the owner manages rather than works to eradicate it, and it is not causing as much damage as I’ve seen in other goats.
Picture 18 shows the typical appearance of the inside surface of an infected hoof. It can be quite bloody and eaten down to the layer directly over the toe bone. When it is that aggressive it causes extreme pain, causing lameness even more pronounced than founder. One case I encountered was so bad I could smell it even as I entered the pen. I had to recommended they euthanize one of those animals as most of her hooves eaten away to the bone-covering layer with the exception of the hoof wall and a little of the very ends of her toes. An infection like that smells very putrid.
There are many treatments available, including oxytetracycline (LA-200), coppertox, tea tree oil, and others. Try some out and see what works best for the situation. Also make sure to keep the affected goat’s hooves well-trimmed in order to allow air into the areas to naturally control the bacteria (remember, they don’t like oxygen!).
When I had this bacteria in my herd a few years ago, the strain I had was apparently coppertox and LA-200 resistant, as those two treatments made no significant improvements. I found that tea tree oil was very effective, but expensive to use without diluting it. So I made up a garlic oil from crushed garlic cloves and cheap vegetable oil, and then added tea tree oil drops as I used it. I washed each infected hoof once a day, with hydrogen peroxide, and ensured goat hoof trimming was done regularly, sometimes every day to keep the indentations exposed. I would then pour the garlic/tea tree oil on the infected areas. Once the dry season started, I managed to completely eradicate the disease and have not seen a new case since the last goat was cured.
Natasha Lovell lives in rainy western Washington state with a small herd of Nubians, and a Guernsey goat. Her website is rubystardairygoats.weebly.com. She would like to thank Noki and Sunna for their semi-cooperation in getting pictures of healthy and foundered hooves. She would also like to give a special thank you to Boise Creek Boer Goats in Enumclaw, Washington for modeling the other hooves.
Originally published in the July/August 2014 issue of Dairy Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy