Trimming Feet

Foot care in goats is a fairly simple matter that one can readily learn, although a conscientious effort must be made in order to insure that the required work is done on a regular and consistent basis. Many foot and leg problems that goats develop are either directly or indirectly caused by a lack of or improper trimming techniques. The amount of time between trimmings depends on several factors, such as type of ground on which the goats walk, their age and level of activity. Generally, foot trimming should be done every three months, although once every 6 weeks may be considered ideal and should be the goal of a small goat herd owner. All goats in the herd, including kids over two months of age should be trimmed regularly. To allow more than three months between trimmings is an invitation for the development of chronic leg problems, especially in the pastern area, because the toes are getting too long and the vertical alignment of the legs and the proper angularity of the feet are changed. Large commercial herds should strive to trim feet at least every six months. Meat/cashmere types normally have stouter legs and feet than dairy types, and are out on range most of the year, naturally wearing down the claw.

It is always easier to trim feet after the goats have been outside in the wet grass of a dew laden or rain soaked pasture, as the moisture is taken in by the hoof walls, making them softer and easier to trim. There are also commercial preparations that may be used to harden or soften the hoof if one feels that this is necessary. However, this is not cost effective for commercial operations. The essential tools for the trimming job are relatively few, with the best items a set of hoof shears and hoof knives, both with sharp edges; a rasp, some iodine, turpentine, copper sulfate, formalin and gloves.

There are several ways of holding or restraining a goat in order to care for the feet, the best method being whatever works well in a particular situation. One method is to place the goat in a milking or shearing stand, perhaps offering a little grain or hay for a cooperative attitude. Doing first the front and then the back feet reduces the goat’s fright and resistance. The front feet can be done by drawing the leg straight out in front of the goat or by bending it at the knee so that the foot is drawn back under the goat. The hind feet may also be extended straight back, away from the goat or picked up and lifted under the belly for trimming. One advantage of working off a stand is that the trimmer does not have to bend over in order to get the job done. He may even sit down. In this way, the stand can be a big back saver, which indirectly helps the regularity of the hoof care and health of the goats.

Another method is to merely tie or have someone hold the goat while the feet are being done from the ground, in the same fashion as a farrier works on a horse. Another method involves placing the goat between one’s legs in the same position used for shearing sheep; that is, the animal is in an upright sitting position. This method has the advantage that if the trimmer must work alone without the aid of a stand, he can still restrain goats better than if they were tied somewhere but do not like to stand still.

The first step in trimming is to clean off the foot so that it will be free of dirt, stones, rot and manure. Besides being easier to see and more pleasing to handle, a clean foot will not dull a knife’s edge as fast as a dirty foot. The next step is to remove any rim or excess growth from the walls of the foot. The wall may have grown and folded back under the foot, in which case first some toe will have to be cut back so that the rim of the wall can be removed properly. The trimming of the wall and toe should be done with the shears, while the heel and sole can best be cut using a hoof knife. In using a hoof knife, care must be taken to cut in a direction away from the goat and the operator. The sole should be trimmed down in thin slices until the heel, sole and wall form a flat surface upon which the goat should stand at a correct angle of about 45 degrees. Caution must be exercised in cutting to stop as soon as the sole begins to take on a pinkish color. Any further trimming goes into the “quick” and the foot will begin to bleed. In that case, a disinfectant such as iodine should be used. Turpentine will harden the sole and may also be helpful.

If the goat’s feet have been neglected for some time and the toes are very long, it is usually not practical to try and bring them back to normal in one trimming. It is generally better to trim the feet more often, gradually getting back to a proper shape, size and angle. A general rule to keep in mind about trimming goat’s feet is that the hoofs hairline should almost be parallel to the ground and the more often trimming is done, the less time and energy per trimming it takes, and the more well behaved the goats will be during the trimming. Also, there is a smaller chance of the goat developing foot problems such as hoof rot if the owner is working with the goat’s feet regularly and frequently. One of the most common problems with goat’s feet is the development of foot rot. This disease is caused by the bacterium Fusiformis nodosus, which is brought into an area by way of contaminated feet, and is capable of surviving in an open field for about two weeks.

Generally, this problem starts as an inflammation between the toes of the foot, later spreading to under the horn. As it continues, it causes a separation between horn and skin, causing varying degrees of pain and lameness. In order to correct this problem, the hoof must be trimmed back to the point of separation from the skin. The foot should then be treated with an antibiotic spray chloramphenicol or tetracycline), or soaked in a 5-10 percent solution of formalin or a 20 percent solution of copper sulfate. Goats should be kept off contaminate fields or muddy yards for at least two weeks to avoid reinfection. A walk-through foot bath filled with lime or saturated copper sulfate solution aids well in maintaining sound, healthy goat feet; provided that the foot bath is kept free of contamination from manure, rain and run-off. Spreading superphosphate fertilizer around the wet spots of the barn yard, near the feed bunk, waterer and buildings also may help. Sharp crushed stones and cinders should never be used n the ground of goat yards since they injure too easily the soft parts of the goat’s hoofs. In wet regions or areas with frequent rainfall it is best to provide goats with stone or concrete walks, pens with wooden slatted floors and solid aprons around the feed rack, trough and waterer so that the goats can walk and stand as much as possible on dry ground, especially during feeding.

Some foot and leg problems can be “cured” by corrective foot trimming. If the hindlegs are postlegged or too straight, it may give the foot a better, less than 45 degree angle by cutting the toe not too short. Visa-versa, a sickle-hocked leg will benefit from frequently trimming the total inner claw shorter and lower on each foot will help. If hooves have spread claws, then cutting the inner more than the outer walls is good corrective hoof trimming, provided it is done frequently and in short intervals.

A conscientious effort in a good foot care program will keep goats better looking, more healthy, happy and more productive. Experience in the care of feet of horses, sheep or cattle should benefit the needs of goats since the principles in foot care of either species are closely the same.

Copyright 1994 Capricorn Press. Not to be reproduced without express written consent of Capricorn Press. Contact for more information

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