Posted by Jennifer Sartell, Professional Homesteader & Blogger, Thu, Mar 3,2016
A goat’s hoof never stops growing. Like a fingernail, the hoof has an external area that is hard and durable as well as an area that is connected to the flesh via a blood supply and nerve endings.
In the wild, a goat’s natural habitat is on mountain cliffs, or foraging through a dirt forest floor and rough terrain. In this environment, the hoof is naturally worn down and kept to a proper length. But when you remove a goat from their natural habitat and place them in a farmyard setting where they stand on lush green pasture, or a stall filled with straw or other soft bedding, the hoof is not worn down. It will continue to grow, and if not kept trimmed can cause health problems for your goat.
The Goat Hoof
The goat hoof is considered a cloven hoof, meaning that the hoof is split into two main hooves that work independently of each other. The goat also has two dewclaw hooves higher up on the back of its pastern (think ankle). These are smaller hooves that are not meant for walking, but aid in maintaining traction.
Goats have an astounding ability to grip surfaces and can climb and balance on very steep cliffs and narrow ledges.
The key to healthy hooves is a quality mineral supplement, such Manna Pro® Goat Mineral, and a well-balanced diet with sufficient protein.
Other things that will keep your goat’s hooves healthy are:
- Clean Living Quarters. Bedding should be mucked often and replaced with clean straw or pine chips. This limits the hooves’ exposure to bacteria.
- Dry Bedding and Pasture. If hooves are kept in damp conditions for an extended period of time, the moisture will penetrate the hooves, softening them and making them brittle and prone to infection or hoof rot.
- If you are introducing your goat to a new pasture or they are being used for land clearing, be sure to inspect the ground for metal or glass debris that could cause injury.
- Trimming Hooves Often. Keeping your goat’s hooves trimmed on a regular basis and at the correct angle will ensure healthy feet and a comfortable gait. If hooves are left too long, it can make it difficult for the goat to walk and affect joints in the pastern and knees. As hooves grow they often curl over, trapping bacteria against the foot pad. This can cause hoof rot and infection.
How Often Should Hooves be Trimmed?
If you are unfamiliar with your goat or are new to goat keeping, you should check your goat’s hooves once a week to see how fast they are growing. Each goat’s hooves will grow at a different rate depending on breed, diet, exercise and living conditions. I would say that every 2–4 weeks is average for hoof trimming. If the hooves look like they are curling (outward or inward) or appear to have “elf toes,” then it’s time to trim.
We usually trim hooves on the stanchion. This keeps the goat occupied with grain while we take care of business.
You will also need:
- Hoof shears (found at your local farm supply store)
- A farrier’s rasp (optional)
- A narrow Popsicle stick “Just In Case” Supplies: (For trims that go too deep)
- Cornstarch or styptic powder
- A wide, shallow cup
- Wound spray or iodine
Training for Trimming
Over the years, we’ve found that goats have very good memories. You want their hoof trimming experience to be a pleasant one so that they don’t learn to fear the stanchion or shears.
Take it slow, and if you have a particularly uppity goat do several practice sessions over a few days without even getting out the shears
Handle the goat’s hooves and treat with grain. Be firm, but gentle. Try not to let them bully you. If the goat learns that you let go when they fuss, then they will fuss every time. Within reason, keep your hand on the goat’s pastern until they stop fussing. Do this several times until both you and the goat are comfortable.
When you do begin trimming, it’s very important to err on the side of not trimming enough the first few times. You don’t want the goat to associate pain with hoof trimming.
How to Trim
If you are at all uncomfortable with trimming your goat’s hooves, talk to an experienced goat keeper or your veterinarian. Ask if you can watch them trim a hoof before you begin.
The bottom of the goat hoof is shaped like two slender teardrops, with the width of the teardrop appearing as a pad and the rest of the hoof having a rubbery center with a teardrop–shaped frame growing around the outer edge.
When the hoof needs to be trimmed, the outer frame will begin to grow past the rubbery center. It may curl over or outward. If left too long, it can even split. This is the area that needs to be trimmed. The pad can also be trimmed, and any excess section that is flattened and curling over removed.
Begin by cleaning the hoof well. Brush off excess debris so you can see the hoof properly.
Use the shears to trim small amounts off the edge of the hoof. The longer the time between trims, the farther the blood supply will have traveled down the hoof growth. If the goat’s hooves are very long, trim small amounts more often until they are back to proper length.
Be sure that you are maintaining a proper angle as you cut. If you cut the hoof too short in the front or back, it can affect the way the goat stands and walks.
As the hoof is trimmed, sometimes dirt will become trapped under the “curl.” Should this occur, you can use a wooden Popsicle stick to dig out any embedded dirt. The rounded edge of the stick is a safe object and won’t cause injury.
You can also use a farrier’s rasp to correct an improper angle.
What if I Cut Too Deep?
It occasionally happens—nick the blood supply and the hoof begins to bleed. It can sometimes be difficult to get the bleeding to stop, so it’s important that you have some “just in case” supplies on hand for every trimming.
If you don’t have a stanchion, try to trim hooves on a clean piece of plywood. After trimming, have the goat stand on the board for a few minutes. Sometimes the bleeding is delayed, and only after the goat puts weight on the trimmed hoof will the cut open up and blood appear. If you don’t see any blood spots, then the hooves were trimmed correctly.
If we cut a bit too deep, we spray the hoof with wound spray and then fill a shallow cup with cornstarch. We have the goat stand in the cup of cornstarch for at least a minute, putting pressure against the hoof. The cornstarch will help the wound to dry quickly and the blood to clot. Raise the hoof and see if the bleeding has stopped; if not, repeat until it does.
With routine checks and a good hoof maintenance schedule, your goats should enjoy comfortable, healthy feet.