Hoof trimming is one of the management practices that a farmer should perform as it may bring about some economical losses to the farm. Hooves grow and they tend to grow at a not so comfortable shape for the animal, and it is up to the farmer to make sure that they are always in perfect shape to avoid losses. The tissues on the bottom soles of the hooves dry and become a nuisance as they give the hoof a different shape, this is the tissue that is trimmed.
Why trim hooves?
The hooves of sheep and goats grow and, if not trimmed, can cause problems to the animal:
- Overgrown hooves make walking difficult
- predispose the animal to other foot problems such as foot rot; especially if animals are in damp, muddy environments.
- Bad hooves make competing for feed difficult. This may cause sheep and goats to go off feed and stop exercising.
- Animals with overgrown hooves are also very susceptible to joint/tendon problems, and arthritis.
- Permanent damage can result if the foot is left neglected for extended periods of time.
- Breeding animals place great stress on their hind legs and feet during mounting. If they are in pain from bad feet, they will refuse to mate thus reducing reproductive rates in a flock. Thus, hoof trimming is an essential part of sheep and goat management.
When to perform hoof trimming?
- Flocks should be checked for hoof growth on a regular basis. Signs that might indicate the need to trim hooves include abnormalities in locomotion and/or animals showing signs of pain while walking.
- Trimming should generally be done about every two months depending on growth rate. A minimum of 2 to 3 trimmings a year is essential for animals under intensive or semi-intensive management despite their diet or environment.
The following also affects how often one needs to trim hooves in the herd:
- Breed (e.g., Boer goats seem to require much attention to their hooves even in dry and rocky areas)
- Environment: Wet climates and farmland conditions greatly increase the need for hoof trimming while animals grazed on rocky, dry soil require trimming less frequently. Animals that have access to hard surfaces will naturally wear down the hoof and require less frequent trimmings. Some small ruminant owners feed their animals on a roughened concrete surface to help the hooves wear down naturally.
- Diet: Hooves of animals that are fed a high energy and protein diet tend to grow more rapidly. Trimming should generally be done about every two months depending on growth rate.
An important point to note is that the job of hoof trimming becomes more difficult the longer hooves are allowed to grow. Care should be taken to avoid trimming feet of breeding stock during late gestation since this may cause injury.
Parts of hooves
Steps when hoof trimming
- Cut the inner claw, making it the correct length between the hairline (where the horn starts) and the tip of the toe; Trim the sole flat. Where fresh sole can be seen (stop when the sole looks pink) and the bottom of the foot is parallel to the line where the hair stops known as the coronary band. This will help reduce the chances of over-trimming and entering the sensitive structures of the foot. Excessive trimming can lead to excessive bleeding, pain, infections and lameness.
- Cut the outer claw, making it the same length and the same heel depth as the inner claw. Make sure this is also trimmed flat.
- Dish-out a slight hollow in the more in the outer claw than the inner claw. This is to find any ulcers and to make sure that the manure cleans away through the space between claws. Stay away from the toes!
- Take care of the various hoof diseases by removing all loose or detached horn in the heel area and providing an effective treatment for infectious hoof diseases.