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Trimming Goat Hooves & Other Goat Maintenance
Making sure that your goats remain happy, healthy, and productive is the most important part of your job as a herdsman. Beyond providing fresh feed & water, and building strong fences and a sturdy shelter, there are some goat keeping tasks that you’ll need to perform intermittently.
Deworming your goats is an important chore that will help them to maintain their weight and health by reducing their parasite load. Providing nutritional supplementation such as BoSe, copper boluses, etc. will help make up for the widespread deficiencies present in our soils and feeds. Bloodwork, performed when acquiring a new goat or before selling some of your current flock, can provide insights into their health and wellness as well.
Today’s post will be focused on an under-appreciated, but absolutely vital, aspect of keeping goats- hoof trimming.
Without regular hoof trimming, goats can suffer from lameness, hoof rot, and strains, sprains, and injuries in their legs and musculoskeletal system. A severely overgrown hoof can affect the goat’s gait and ultimately their quality of life when moving from the feeder to the waterer, or moving around the pasture to graze, becomes painful.
Regular hoof trimming will prevent these issues before they surface, and keep your goats comfortable, productive, and healthy for a long time.
Anatomy of a Goats Foot
Goats have hooves very similar to deer, sheep, cattle, and pigs. They have a split hoof made up of 2 crescent-shaped halves, and a pair of dewclaws, above the cannon bone, where 2 more knobs of hoof grow.
Each hoof half has a sole- the soft, sensitive part of the foot that bears the goats’ weight. The sole is surrounded by a strong, hard layer of (kerratin?) known as the hoof wall.
The pointed tip of the hoof is called the toe. The rounded end of the hoof is called the heel.
When trimming the goats’ hooves, we will usually be trimming the hoof wall so that it is even with the sole in length. Occasionally, the sole itself will need to be trimmed. It is very rare that the dewclaws will need to be trimmed.
A Well-Balanced Goat Hoof VS an Imbalanced Hoof
A well-balanced, properly trimmed hoof will look rather vertical and boxy when viewed from the side. There should only be a slight angle to the toe, and the heel should run close to parallel with the angle of the toe. The hoof wall should end flush with the ground, without bending or curving under the sole or away from the hoof.
Viewed from the front, the toes should match in length, and rest flush on the ground. There shouldn’t be any distortion or curving in either direction.
A poorly trimmed hoof will generally have heels that have “run under” the goat’s hoof. The toes will be excessively long, with an angle that is closer to parallel with the ground than perpendicular. The hoof wall will often curl under the sole on one side of the hoof, and splay outwards on the other side.
A goat with hooves this overgrown will have a stiff gait. It will keep its rear legs slightly bent, bearing weight on the hocks and keeping the cannon bone flexed rather than upright. The change in gait is brought about by the overgrown hooves, but this incorrect way of walking will also exacerbate the hoof issues.
Repairing the damage to the hoof, and the goat, will need to take place over several trimming sessions.
A less severe, but still overgrown hoof, can still affect the way your goat moves, but more subtly. A slightly overgrown hoof (your basic hoof in need of a trim) will have hoof walls that extend beyond the sole. The toes will be a little longer, with a slightly flattened angle relative to the ground. The heels may just have begun to work forward and under the goat.
Whether your goat’s hooves are severely overgrown, or only slightly so, it will take time to bring them back to their proper shape and function. That’s why getting in the habit of regular
How Often to Trim Goat Hooves
While there aren’t any hard and fast rules on how often you’ll need to trim your goats’ hooves, a good rule of thumb is to check their hooves every 8 weeks or so. Rather than sticking to a specific date on a calendar, trim hooves when it’s necessary- based on the appearance of the hoof.
If your goats have hoof walls that have extended past the sole, extra length in the toe, etc. it’s time for a trim. If a goat begins to limp or favor a hoof, it’s definitely time to take a look and give a trim.
Giving your goats rocks to climb or gravel to walk through will help take the edge off (so to speak) and help wear on the hoof walls between trims. Goats living in small pens with soft bedding or lush grass will need their hooves trimmed more often, just because they’re doing less walking and the walking they do isn’t abrasive.
What Do You Need for Trimming Goat Hooves?
Trimming goat hooves, fortunately, doesn’t require much in the way of equipment. 90% of the time, I utilize a single tool when trimming my goats’ hooves: a pair of basic hoof clippers.
You can add a rasp, a hoof knife, blood stop powder, etc. as needed.
You can substitute a pair of hoof clippers for a pair of pruning shears, but it’s worth the $13 or so to get the real deal. I ordered this set from Amazon a few years ago and they’re holding up alright.
Trimming Goat Hooves- Restraint Options
Besides the tool to trim the hoof itself, you’ll need some method of restraining your goat. You can restrain a goat with only your own body- holding them in place with your non-working arm and your legs. (If you’re familiar with shearing sheep- the method is the same)
It is, however, going to be much easier to restrain a goat in a way that leaves both hands free, especially if you are new to trimming goat hooves.
I like to use the milkstand to restrain the does when hoof trimming. They are accustomed to jumping on the stand on their own and are patient- once given a little grain.
For younger, jumpier goats, (or bucks too large for my small milk stand) you can restrain them along the fenceline with just a dog collar and/or a piece of rope. Standing alongside their flank will keep them from trying to twist out or pull against the restraint.
Holding the Goat’s Hooves for Trimming
In order to safely trim the hoof, you’ll need to maintain a firm grip on the foot in a way that prevents the goat from struggling or pulling away from you.
The best way to hold the front hooves is in your non-working hand, bent at the knee and at the ankle so that the sole of the hoof is facing upward.
To get the hoof and leg in position, grip the goat’s front leg, at approximately the back of the knee, with your non-working hand.
Slide your hand downwards, stopping when your thumb is across the goat’s dewclaws and your fingers are resting on the pastern. (The length of leg between the ankle and hoof)
Pull upwards slightly and give the goat a chance to shift its weight off this leg, then gently bend the leg backwards at the knee, guiding the hoof smoothly upwards. The hoof should be at the bottom of the goat’s side, approximately parallel with the brisket. Let the goat settle and adjust its weight before beginning to trim.
To hold the back hooves up for trimming, the process is similar to the front hooves.
Start by taking your non-working hand, and petting down the length of the back of the goat’s leg- starting at the top of the back and stopping at the hock. Grip the leg with your hand- circling the leg with your thumb and fingers like a broomstick. Slide your hand downwards, again stopping when your thumb has reached the dewclaws.
Getting your goat to shift its weight off the back hooves may be harder. It can help to gently push backwards on their rump as you lift the hoof upwards. I tend to lay my non-working arm down the length of the back of the goat’s other back leg, and let my upper arm gently push against that leg. Without weight resting on the hoof I want to trim, it’s much easier to lift it up, slightly back, and encourage a bend at the ankle.
Goats are notoriously touchy about their back feet. A firm grip around the pastern is the best way to prevent them from getting away from you. If your goat begins to struggle or kick, don’t let go of the hoof if you can help it. Stop trimming and let the goat settle and adjust its weight before trimming again.
Trimming Goat Hooves- The Front Feet
With a firm grip on the front hooves, as described above, we can begin the trimming process. Start by using the tip of the hoof clippers to scrape out any mud, vegetation, or manure that is packed against the sole of the hoof. It doesn’t need to be perfectly clean, but we want to make sure that we can see the hoof well enough to cut accurately.
I like to start the trim by working from the heel of the hoof forward. I use the sole of the hoof as my guide, cutting from heel to toe, starting with the outside side of one hoof half. Basically, open the hoof clippers so that there is a blade on each side of the hoof wall- parallel with the sole of the hoof and perfectly perpendicular to the hoof wall.
Snip from heel to toe. Then flip the clippers around so that you’re cutting towards yourself. Make a cut from toe to heel that is, like your previous cut, parallel with the sole and perpendicular to the hoof wall. This cut will make the inner hoof wall of this first hoof half match the exterior hoof wall.
Repeat this process on the other half of this hoof. Heel to toe on the exterior hoof wall, toe to heel on the interior hoof wall.
With this initial cut done on both halves of the hoof, evaluate the shape of the hoof. You can set the hoof down and see how the goat stands. We want the foot to be boxy and upright. Not perfectly so, but we don’t want heels tucked under or an excessively long toe.
As you do any further trimming, keep in mind that the sole of the goat’s hoof is soft and sensitive; it will become sore and can bleed if you cut too deeply.
Reshaping overgrown hooves is a long project and will have to take place over the course of several trimming sessions. It’s worth taking the time to do it right (slowly and gradually) instead of rushing and risking lameness.
Once the first hoof is a shape you like, repeat the process with the other front hoof. Take a moment to compare the two feet after trimming, making sure that they’re roughly matched and balanced in shape.
Trimming Goat Hooves- The Back Feet
Trimming the back hooves is very similar- almost identical- to trimming the front hooves. The only major difference between trimming the front and back hooves is that keeping the goat still, and keeping a firm grasp on the rear legs can be a little more difficult.
To trim the back hooves, start by taking the first hoof in your non-working hand (as described above). With the tip of the hoof clippers, scrape any vegetation/mud/manure off the sole of the hoof- working from the heel to the toe. Don’t gouge into the sole of the hoof- it is soft and sensitive- instead scrape gently, gradually working down to the surface of the sole.
With the sole exposed, open the clippers, and begin to cut the exterior hoof wall. You want the cut to be parallel with the sole and perfectly perpendicular to the wall. Cut from heel to the tip of the toe, then flip the clippers around. Cut the interior hoof wall on that half of the hoof, working from toe to heel. (Again making sure that your cut is parallel with the sole of the foot)
Repeat this process with the other half of the same hoof.
At this point, it’s a good idea to set the hoof down (gently!) and evaluate the hoof shape from the side and front. Much the same as the front feet, we want the hoof to be boxy in shape, rather upright, with a slight toe and slight heel. If the shape isn’t quite right, pick the hoof back up and work to bring it closer to the correct shape. It may need to be a gradual process over the course of several trimming sessions, don’t rush it or cut too deeply as you can make a goat lame or cause bleeding.
Once you’re satisfied with the shape of this hoof, repeat the process with the other back hoof. Take a few seconds to evaluate the trimmed hooves side by side, making sure they match (roughly) and that the goat is standing evenly on each hoof.
Mistakes & Fixes While Trimming Goat Hooves
The biggest 2 mistakes in trimming goat hooves is either trimming too much, or not trimming enough.
The fix for trimming too much (cutting too deeply, paring the sole too far, etc.) is to let the goat go longer between trims. Soreness should resolve after a few days. If there is any bleeding, use quick stop powder or cornstarch and keep an eye on the goat as it heals for signs of illness, infection, etc.
If you don’t remove enough of the hoof wall when trimming goat hooves, you’ll need to trim hooves more often. You’re also risking lameness and injury as a result of a changed gait from overgrown hooves. The fix for not taking enough is to simply remove more hoof wall.
I find that taking a moment to visualize what I want the hoof to look like before I start trimming will help me to take off the appropriate amount of hoof.
Trimming Goat Hooves: FAQs
What are goats hooves made out of?
Goat hooves are made of the same material as fingernails- a protein called keratin.
Why are my goats hooves cracking?
Goat hooves will crack when the hoof walls are overgrown. Cracking can also occur if the goats are living in a perpetually-wet environment and don’t have an opportunity to dry their hooves out. Cracking can also be a symptom of hoof rot, but most often it is a symptom that the hoof wall is simply overgrown.
Are goat hooves soft?
The sole of a goat’s hoof is soft and sensitive with nerves that run close to the surface. The hoof wall, which surrounds the sole and foot capsule, is harder and designed to protect the foot and help support the weight of the goat.
Do goats have hooves?
Yes, goats, like all ruminants, have hooves instead of paws or feet.
How many hooves does a goat have?
Goats have a split hoof, so each hoof is two separate halves. They also have smaller hooves, called dewclaws, that grow at their ankle.
Trimming goat hooves without a stand?
You can trim goat hooves without a stand, but it is much easier to have one. If you don’t have access to a stand, you can tie the goat to a fence line to limit how much they can wriggle or move around during the trimming process. Alternatively, you can also restrain a goat on it’s rump in the same way that one would restrain a sheep for shearing. Tilt tables, squeeze chutes, lamb chairs, hog tying, etc. are all options as well, but I’ve found that the milk stand or fence line are the simplest.
What age do you trim goat hooves?
I start checking and trimming my goats’ hooves when they’re several months old. Kids are more active than adults and often keep their hooves worn down more effectively. It will greatly depend on the size and substrate in your pen or pasture, but plan to start checking their hooves when they’re a few months old.
How often do you trim goat hooves?
Plan to check and/or trim your goats’ hooves every 8 weeks or so. You may not need to trim their hooves so often, but getting them used to having their legs and hooves handled will make trimming their hooves much easier.
What can you use to trim goat hooves?
I prefer a classic pair of hoof trimmers for trimming goat hooves. They are sharp, inexpensive, and long-lasting.
If you don’t have a pair of hoof trimmers, you can also use a pair of pruning shears, a hoof knife, or a rasp.
Trimming Goat Hooves- In Conclusion
I hope that this post has equipped you with everything that you’d need to know to be able to trim your goats’ hooves. It’s a vital part of keeping your goats happy, healthy, and productive. For more information about keeping goats for milk on the small homestead, check out this post.
If you have any questions, or pull of a successful hoof trim, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to drop me an email, or reach out on Instagram- @ EmigrantFarms.
Thanks for reading, and happy homesteading!