Hoof Trimming

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Introduction: Regular hoof trimming is an essential part of raising small ruminants. Depending on the environment the sheep or goats live in and the diet they are fed, some animals require that their feet be trimmed every 6 weeks to 2 months. A minimum of 2-3 times a year is essential for almost all animals no matter their diet or environment. Animals that are fed a high energy and protein diet tend to have hooves that grow more rapidly. Animals that have access to hard surfaces and play areas will naturally wear down the hoof and require less frequent trimmings. Some small ruminant owners will feed on a roughened concrete surface to help the hooves naturally wear down. Care should be taken to avoid trimming feet of ewes/does during late gestation.

Sheep and goats that are kept in damp, muddy environments and do not have their feet trimmed regularly are very prone to foot problems, such as footrot and footscald. Animals that have excessive hoof growth are also very susceptible to laminitis, joint/tendon problems, and arthritis. If the foot is left neglected for extended periods of time, permanent damage can result. Dry conditions can make hooves difficult to trim. To soften hard or dry, brittle hooves, animals can be allowed to stand in a wet area for 2 to 3 hours before trimming. Water softens the hoof and makes it easier to trim.

How to Trim the Feet:

Step #1: The sheep or goat should be properly restrained. For sheep this usually means placing them on their rump. Goats, however, should be trimmed while in a standing position. Goats should have their heads tied to a secure place, preferably on a wall or fence. This allows the person doing the trimming to stand to the outside of the goat and gently push the goat up against the fence or wall for extra control when needed.

The most common method of restraining sheep is to place them on their rumps and hold them in the shearing position. This procedure can be accomplished by standing on the sheepís left side, holding the jaw with the left hand and placing the right hand on the animalís hip. Hold the jaw tightly and bend the sheepís head sharply over its right shoulder. At the same time, press down on the animalís right hip. When the sheep falls to the ground, raise the front feet and head so the sheep rests on its rump and leans off center of the tail bone and against the person doing the trimming. If a large number of sheep are to be processed, a bale of hay can serve as a rest during trimming.

A second method of restraint is to use a tilting squeeze table. The animal is rotated on its side while being restrained. This equipment requires added expense, but offers easy access to the animalís feet. Care must be observed, however, to avoid being kicked. A third method employs the use of a commercially-made sheep deck chair. This "beach" type chair is adjustable and holds the sheep on its dock comfortably and allows the operator the flexibility of having both hands free to concentrate on feet trimming rather than having to use one hand for restraining.

The feet of a goat can be picked up from many different positions. Commonly, the person doing the trimming will stand on the same side as the foot they are trimming. The hind legs are often brought back straight behind the goat.

Step #2: The overall goal of the trimming process should be to make the foot match the angle of the coronary band (see figure #4). After trimming, the bottom of the foot and the coronary band should be parallel. Many foot trimmers start by trimming the ends of the dew claws (see figure #2). This removes any sharp points or extensions that can be caught on objects or injure the foot. A pair of hoof trimmers or a sharp pair of rose trimmers should be used.

Step #3: The toe region should then be examined while removing any excess debris. The toe and outside hoof wall are trimmed down to the where fresh sole can be seen and the bottom of the foot is parallel to the coronary band (see figure #4). When learning how to trim, begin by taking very small amounts of hoof wall and toe off at a time. If the trimming goes too deep, the sensitive structures of the foot can be injured. This can lead to excessive bleeding, pain, lameness, and infections. If the foot is trimmed too deep, the bleeding can be stopped by holding the foot and applying some blood-stop powder. The foot should be kept clean and free of debris for the next few days. This will help prevent infections and possible problems with tetanus. A tetanus booster should also be given if the bleeding is significant.

Step #4: The inside wall of the foot can also be trimmed. It should be trimmed a little bit lower than the outside wall. This allows most of the animalís weight to be on the outside hoof wall where it should be placed naturally. The heel regions can also be trimmed when needed. A plane is sometimes used to help even up the surfaces and remove any dead sole.

Step #5: A similar procedure is then done on the opposite claw. Once the entire process is finished, the foot should be released and examined for proper balance while the foot is bearing weight. Again, the bottom of the foot should be parallel to the coronary band. The toes should not be left too long; if left too long, the animal will rock backwards on the foot and cause unnecessary stress on the flexor tendons. If the toes are trimmed too short, the fetlock may "break forward" in an abnormal position.

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* When learning how to trim feet, begin by removing small amounts of hoof wall at a time. Go slow and take the time necessary to let the foot down and check the balance of the foot. Removing small amounts and taking time to check balance on the foot will help reduce the chances of over-trimming and entering the sensitive structures of the foot.

Figure #1: This picture shows the various parts of the hoof on the bottom of the foot. A) identifies the heel regions of the foot. B) shows the toe region on a claw that has not been trimmed. C) identifies the outside hoof wall, and D) indicates fresh sole after being trimmed.


Figure #2: Often the first place to start is the dewclaws. The tips of the dewclaws should be removed. These structures will bleed if cut too short, so it is important to remove small amounts on a frequent basis.


Figure #3: This shows the bottom of a foot that is in desperate need of a trim. Notice how hoof wall has over-grown between the two claws allowing dirt and potential infection to be trapped in the interdigital cleft (identified by the white arrows).


Figure #4: The goal of trimming the foot should be to get the bottom of the foot to match the angle of the coronary band (identified by the white line). In this picture, the excess toe is being removed to a level where the bottom of the foot will be parallel to the coronary band. The intended bottom of the foot is indicated by the black line. Notice how the white and the black line will be parallel once the foot is properly trimmed.


Figure #5: This picture compares the untrimmed claw on the left to a trimmed claw on the right. Notice how much shorter the toe region on the trimmed side is in comparison to the untrimmed side.


Figure #6: This is a picture of a fully trimmed foot. The bottom of the foot has also been leveled with a plane.


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