Hoof trimming is the basis of having a happy, productive pack goat just like the feet are the basis of the animal itself. Below are some basic principles for keeping hooves in good shape for hiking and packing.

How to Hoof Trim

SUPPLIES

  1. Hoof trimmers
  2. Optional: gloves
  3. Optional: hoof rot treatment such as copper sulfate, zinc sulfate, or Hoof ‘n Heel which has copper sulfate in it. The first two compounds, bought in bulk, are more cost effective than buying individual bottles of Hoof n’ Heel for large herds.

TECHNIQUE

Trimming goat hooves is very straight forward. The sole and heel of your foot is flat, and that provides a stable walking surface for you and I to walk on. The goat needs a flat surface on the bottom of the hoof to walk on, and you need to trim the hoof so that the bottom will be flat. Hoof trimmers are basically a sharp pair of scissors used to cut hoof pieces off. Goat hooves can be very slippery to hold onto, and no one wants to get kicked in the face by a frightened kid whose hoof escaped your grasp. Grippy gloves are useful for avoiding this.

To trim goat hooves, stand next to the goat and left or right of the goat’s leg depending on what side of the body you are on. Either pull it out straight away from the body or curl it up against the body into a position where you can visually inspect the bottom of the hoof.

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Bend the hoof/leg as the goat naturally bends it for goat comfort

Hoof wall may be grown across the bottom of the hoof. Trim that away.

Hoof wall
Severely overgrown hoof wall. Slide the trimmers under this overgrown wall and trim away

The sole of the hoof may have developed a high heel on the back. Trim the heel off.

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Some heel is fine. Much bigger than this though and I would trim a bit off

The hoof at the toe may have overgrown and curled over. Trim that away and pick out any debris or rocks from the tip of the hoof or dirt stuck in the hoof. Don’t cut the tip off the hoof though in the mistaken thought it will prevent more rocks from getting stuck in the tip. I tried that and it unbalances the goat hoof.

Move onto the next hoof, being methodical about how you move. After several trimmings the goat will get used to the routine and be easier and easier to trim because it anticipates which hoof you are doing next and what it needs to do to balance itself.

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Right side of the hoof (right claw) has been trimmed down to a nice, flat sole. The left side  (left claw) needs some of the hoof wall trimmed and shows a big black spot of hoof rot where the sole of the foot has been eaten away by rot

Hints:

  1. Keep your eyes away from the hooves. Being kicked in the eye, especially by a kid, can cause eye damage and expensive doctor bills. I worked for someone who had that happen and it cost her $3,000 at the doctor.
  2. Are the hooves too hard to cut? Trim hooves after a rain or heavy morning dew – water softens the hoof walls
  3. Tips of trimmers are sharp. I have put a pair through my hand and that bleeds like a &!^!. If you do this, grab a maxi pad – believe it or not this is the cheapest and best blood stop bandage for deep wounds you can pull out of a medicine cabinet even if it is a little embarrassing.
  4. Avoid cutting too deeply. White colored sole is good. Pink means you’re nearing the blood vessels that feed the sole. If you cut into pink the hoof will bleed and the goat will be in pain. This is not conducive to a happy goat or to one that can comfortably hike.
  5. If a goat bleeds during trimming and the goat is up to date on its CDT vaccine, turn it loose in a dirt lot and the dirt will help clot the blood. You can wrap vet wrap around the hoof to stop bleeding, but this invariably gets lost and sometimes gets eaten and is annoying to wrap properly to avoid swelling. Unless you have a TON of blood, don’t bother with it.
  6. It is perfectly normal for a goat to fall over while trimming hooves. Goats are not a cooperative species by nature and not all will tolerate giving you a hoof willingly! It may be a disaster if a horse falls over while hoof trimming, but goats are much more flexible, and sometimes you do end up trimming a goats hooves while it lies on the ground and bawls at you.
  7. Hoof rot, if it gets into the cuts or scrapes on your hands, will infect them quite nastily. If you have a lot of cuts on your hands or your are immuno-compromised wear gloves to protect yourself.
  8. Clean your hoof trimmer blades with 91% alcohol after each animal to avoid transferring hoof rot or hoof scald between goats.
  9. Hoof trimmers dull fast. Many websites offer resharpening of these essential tools.
  10. Stick with the orange handled or green handled hoof trimmers these seem to work the best.
  11. If you are using copper sulfate or zinc sulfate wear gloves while administering. Also, this stuff stings if it gets into a cut pretty fiercely.

HOW OFTEN DO I TRIM?

I trim my goat’s hooves 1x a month like clockwork. If you are feeding a high protein diet you may want to trim every 3 weeks for optimal hoof quality. If you have pasture ornaments that don’t work and forage quality is poor you may only need to trim every 3 months. If you neglect hoof trimming, especially on young goats, this can lead to leg abnormalities because overgrown hooves are hard to walk on. Not good for the lifespan or hikeability of your animal!


HOOF PROBLEMS

Hoof Rot –

You know you have hoof rot when the hoof smells bad. You will see dark spots, usually in pits or under overgrown parts of the hoof. Some hoof rot, especially if its in grooves of the hoof and not in small pits on the sole of the hoof, is not a bad thing. Clean out the black foul smelling gunk, trim the goats hooves, and put it on DRY ground and the hoof rot will generally clear itself up.

If you have a goat that is NOT clearing up or lives on wet ground hoof rot can become a problem. Treat the goat hoof with a drying disinfectant agent such as zinc sulfate or copper sulfate dissolved in water or horse “hoof and heal” once a day until the condition resolves. If after continued treatment the goat continues to have problems or goes lame you need to consider moving the goat to a dry area or culling the animal.

Hoof rot may be more of a problem in animals that aren’t getting good feed, are mycotoxin challenged, or have other health conditions. If the whole herd seems plagued all of a sudden, think about whether you have a universal management problem that needs to be addressed such as overused drought pastures.

Hoof rot
Hoof rot can cause hoof wall separation (red circle) or erosion of the sole (green circle). Clean out the foul smelling junk and get the goat on dry pasture!

 

Foot Scald – 

Beware the Ides of March if you are Ceasar and beware foot scald if you run small ruminants. This stuff sucks. You can introduce it into your herd by purchasing infected animals, which is why I treat incoming animals with hoof and heal before turning them out. Once it gets in foot scald lives in the soil, constantly reinfecting your herd. Susceptibility can be decreased by selective breeding and there is some anecdotal evidence that white hooves and kiko blood lines are more susceptible than other breeds specifically of meat goats.

Foot scald may not smell bad – the first sign you have is usually a dead lame goat in the pasture. They are generally lame on a single foot and the lameness comes and goes, being most obvious after the ground is disturbed or when it rains and mud forms. The only control method is to make foot pans full of copper sulfate or zinc sulfate solution that the goats are forced to walk through multiple times a day. Usually these are placed so that goats must walk through them to reach water or food since goats don’t walk through foot pans willingly. Zinc sulfate is hard to get to dissolve. If you use water baths you need 4lbs of zinc sulfate in 5 gallons of water. Alternatively you can do a “dry” foot bath using 10lbs of zinc sulfate mixed with 90lbs of crushed limestone. Copper sulfate is 8lbs in 5 gallons of water – REMEMBER THAT COPPER IS TOXIC TO SHEEP. Don’t use this in a pasture with sheep! Copper sulfate hardens the hoof (beneficial to stopping hoof problems) but zinc sulfate does not. However, in some areas getting hold of copper sulfate is difficult. This may impact your choice of compounds.

Removal of foot scald is difficult because it is in the soil. Allowing pastures to rest for long periods and debris to build up over the original soil layer to bury the infection will stop it. Prevention of reemergence includes avoid subsoil disturbance, (don’t run horses, pigs, or cattle on the pasture – they can dig up soil), and avoid muddy spots or wet ground.

A very functional foot bath set up

Overgrown Hooves –

You went on vacation. Your kids started school. It’s a pain to get the herd up. There are a lot of reasons why goats don’t get their hooves trimmed very often, and if you own goats there will come a day when for whatever reason you end up with overgrown hooves. If the hoof is only mildly overgrown you can trim as usual, it will just take a little longer.

If the hoof is very overgrown and very hard, start by having the goat stand in something wet for several hours, (dewy grass or grass soaked by a hose or sprinkler works). This will soften the hoof wall. If that still makes it hard to cut you can get a pair of heavy duty garden shears or a horse hoof nipper and these will generally cut the hoof. If you have lots of money an electric hoof knife will also work.

Severely overgrown hooves may take several trimmings to get back into good shape. Be prepared for the long haul. If the goat has leg abnormalities from overgrown hooves or from walking sideways on its hooves you may have to control the goat’s exercise level until the hooves are fixed to avoid permanently fixing those joints into the wrong shape by having the muscles grow out incorrectly.