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By: Gary Pfalzbot
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The health and maintenance of goat feet is very important and is often an overlooked item of health care. There are several very well written articles on this subject, as well as articles explaining the reasoning for proper foot care such as trimming of the hooves. This article is not meant to replace any previously written material; I just would like to present some basic information in a different way.

The foot of a goat is one of natures works of art - it is designed such that a goat can easily balance upon rocks and steep crevices with very little trouble. It's no wonder that taking good care of your goats feet is important and vital to their well-being. TOP

Keeping the hooves well trimmed is the key to a healthy foot. I am sure that many of you know how it feels to have an ingrown or overgrown toenail. If a goat could tell us in a language we can understand that their feet are bothering them, we might somehow be surprised. Oddly enough, if a person watches the behavior of a goat long enough, they will soon recognize a goat that has a bothersome foot or hoof!

The most obvious sign of a bothersome foot (or feet) is simply to observe the growth of the hooves and the way the goat walks. A hoof that is curled out, a limp, or in some cases, a goat that seems to paw at the ground for no reason is a sure candidate for a foot and hoof inspection. It should be noted that some goats paw at the ground out of habit and it may mean nothing.

How a person will go about trimming a goats hooves is another matter entirely. As there are many purposes for goats, there are also different ways and reasons to trim. Those raising goats for show purposes will probably pay closer attention to proper hoof trimming than those raising goats just as pets. Those raising goats as pack animals will understand the importance moreso than many of just how vital the correct trimming of the hooves is. My method and technique described below addresses hoof care in its most basic form, designed for goats that are primarily raised for no other purpose than pets.

The overgrown hoof as seen in Picture 1 is a perfect example of a hoof that needs to be trimmed to restore proper walking and foot placement. In this particular example, I chose a goat who apparently has the genetic characteristic of one hoof growing faster than the rest. If left unattended, the condition could lead to a term known as "bad pastern(s)" or an abnormal lower leg development. In show circles, bad pasterns are marked against. It should also be mentioned that bad pasterns could also cause a hoof to grow faster than normal as well. TOP

There are always extreme cases in which the hoof growth is very pronounced, rendering conventional hoof trimming methods (such as I have outlined in this article) nearly useless. The following pictures show such an extreme case where this goat has a very difficult time getting around.

A good example of extremely overgrown hooves A good example of extremely overgrown hooves A good example of extremely overgrown hooves

In this case, trimming took several weeks to accomplish. If you have a goat whose hooves have grown to this point, you need to consider hiring a vet or person skilled in trimming such overgrowth. This is not a job for the feint of heart nor an inexperienced trimmer. Trimming MUST be performed in SMALL steps. Trying to cut all the excess hoof growth off at one time will result in a disaster. TOP

There are basically two tools I use for trimming - a hoof knife and a pair of snub nosed wire cutters as seen in
Picture 2. I know there are some people who raise goats and trim hooves that might not entirely agree with my choice of tools, but, they work for me and I have never had a trimming job go bad yet. In my opinion, there is no need to spend more money than needed on fancy tools when certain other tools do the job just as well if not better. Besides, for myself, the wire cutter method fits into my hand better.

How one proceeds to the actual trimming stage is pretty much left up to the relationship of owner and goat and the willingness of the goat to let you trim its feet. Some goats are eager and only require a flake of hay or bowl of grain while other will take more time catching and holding than the actual time spent trimming. My own goats are fairly friendly but do not appreciate being trimmed. For that reason, I most often use a "straddle" method on the larger goats and an "elevated" method on the smaller goats. If your goats fit the hard to control category, you might find my techniques useful. In either case, a person helping, a lead rope and a collar, and a bit of food is always a good idea. TOP

Getting up close and personal with your goat is what this really involves. Even the wildest goat will stand still beside you if you remain calm. Don't rush into this job guns blazing or you'll have a goat that will not cooperate and make the whole experience very unpleasant. Your goat needs to trust that you are not going to do anything to hurt or scare it - you need to trust that your goat isn't going to jerk away and hurt you or you accidentally hurt it. Be calm, be patient and above all, be as easy and as gentle as you can be. If you are not in the proper frame of mind for the job, don't do it. Wait until you are.

My "straddle" method involves straddling the goat backwards (stand over the top of the goat facing backwards) and raising the rear leg up just enough to bend the lower foot back. You must be very careful as the goat may struggle and can injure themselves if you lift the leg up to high or at an odd angle. You should practice lifting the foot up many times before you ever begin cutting. Very soon you will achieve a zone of comfort for yourself and the goat. One tip I might mention: keep your tools in your back pocket so you can easily reach for them or put them away. The less commotion you make with a goats foot in the air, the better.

My "elevated" method involves placing the goat on a work table or place that brings the goats feet up to you. The back of my flatbed truck works well for this. It is a good idea to have someone holding the goat for you or, if the goat is gentle enough, on a short leash eating hay or grain. The goat should be small enough to where you can wrap one arm around and lift the hoof to be trimmed while using the other hand to do the actual trimming. I prefer this method the most mainly because it places less strain on me having to stoop down. Everything is right about eye level and this really makes it convenient. TOP

With the hoof raised in the air, your first job is to carefully inspect the hoof as in
Picture 3, and clean any mud, manure, rot, debri and small stones from between the walls of the hoof. At this point, also make note of how the hoof looks for color and the smell of the hoof. A rotten smell is usually indicative of foot rot and should be treated accordingly.

Carefully using the curved portion of the hoof knife as shown in Picture 4, gently dislodge the debri and take note where the bottom of the foot is. Do not dig deep into this as it can cause injury. Just enough to clean the foot well. To do a really good job, one should consider having a spray bottle full of warm soapy water and disposable paper towels to spray and clean the area thoroughly before beginning to trim. The more of the hoof and foot you can see, the better the job you will be able to do. Note: in lieu of soapy water, a solution of bleach and water or iodine can be used. I sometimes use hydrogen peroxide to clean the area followed by a water rinse for very soiled hooves. When all is said and done, you will be able to see just how deep the walls of the hoof are and judge how much you will need to cut. Using this method, there will be no mistaking dirt and debri from hoof material.

How much to trim in my opinion really depends on the terrain and soil where your goats live. For softer or wetter soils, you can trim down each hoof wall to nearly flush with the pad of their foot. This will prevent debri and manure buildup between the walls which could lead to bacterial infection or foot rot. For soils that are harder, rockier or dry, I prefer to leave about 1/8" to 1/16" of the hoof wall intact, helping to raise the food pad just above the soil.

My personal preference is to start near the inside of the hoof as seen in Picture 5, and carefully work my way around the perimeter of the hoof as seen is Picture 6 and in Picture 7. You should only trim small amounts at a time and not large chunks. TOP

While you are trimming each hoof, it is a good idea to check the dewclaw area, Picture 9 and trim away any dead or crusty hoof that may be present.

It's a natural tendency to see your goats hooves and think they are very overgrown, and try to correct the growth in one trimming. Don't cut alot away all at once in one trimming or you'll end up with a goat that has sore feet. Correcting severe overgrowth might take several trimmings over a couple of weeks time. The best comparison I can give a person is cutting their fingernails. You know that real tender feeling you get if you cut to close? Now think of the goat who always applies pressure to its feet. That's how they feel. And when cut your fingernails too close and don't like that feeling, you don't have to walk on your fingers! Cut conservatively and not aggressively. There will always be another day that you can trim off a little more to bring the hoof back to proper form.

Foot Scald is termed as the onset of Foot Rot and is caused by improper levels of copper and
sulfur in the diet. As the scald progresses into rot, you will smell a very foul odor and may also see a pus discharge from the hoof area. This condition needs to be treated as quickly as possible.

While there are a number of treatments used to correct foot scald and foot rot, perhaps the most common is to trim away the rotten part of the hoof, using care not to trim away good tissue. Scrub the area with a copper wash consisting of two tablespoons of copper sulfate and one tablesoon of vinegar mixed into one quart of water. You can apply copper sulfate powder directly to any lesions or scabs that exist and leave covered for at least 24 hours.

In addition to the above treatment, also prepare a solution of a half teaspoon of copper sulfate and one teaspoon of dolomite, mixed with two teaspoons of vitamin C powder. Give this mixture to the goat for two days. At this point, you should check all feeds given to the goat for the amount of copper contained as well as sulfur and adjust accordingly. If the amount of these minerals is not properly adjusted, the foot rot/foot scald condition will return.

Founder (often called laminitis) shows up as a sudden lameness where the feet are warm or hot to the touch. The causes for founder are basically low magnesium or a sudden intake of high protein (such as feed bin raids, sudden change in diet, etc.). Treatment basically entails giving the affected goat one to two tablespoons of Epsom Salts and adding dolomite to the feed. Once the mineral ration has been stabilized with a proper balance, founder should not be a problem. TOP

An good example of badly overgrown hooves My personal tools of the trade Foot inspection - look for rocks, thorns, etc.
Using the hoof knife Strating from the inner hoof area Trimming my way around
Trimming where the hoof walls meet Dislodging a small stone from between the hoof walls Extra credit - trimming dead and decayed hoof from the dewclaw

About the author: Gary Pfalzbot is the webmaster of GoatWorld. He has raised goats over the years, been involved with 4-H (as a young boy) and currently resides in Florissant, CO, situated within the Rocky Mountains. He and his wife Pam began raising a few breeds of goats, mainly precipitated for the control of Kudzu vine. They now primarily author the GoatWorld web site to continue to inform, educate, and promote the industry for those persons who are interested in goats.

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