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How to Trim Goat Hooves

Hoof trimming! Goats in the wild never need their hooves trimmed. They are constantly running over different terrains that wear their hooves down. However, their domesticated kin don’t have that in their lives and require you to know how to trim your goat hooves.

It can be a bit daunting, however, for new goat owners. I remember the first six months of owning goats, I was nervous every time I trimmed their hooves! Within that time, I had a vet come out and do a wellness check on my goats. She even commented that I could cut their hooves back even more. *gulp* More?! BUT……

Here I am, years later to tell you that you aren’t alone if you are nervous about getting it done correctly. Let’s start with…why even trim their hooves?

Benefits of Trimming Hooves

Goat hooves, if grown out too much, can be damaging to the goat feet and legs. Overgrown hooves change the posture of their pastern and legs. This changes the goat’s “posture” over time. This, as with humans, can cause complications with joints. It can also make walking painful.

Additionally, overgrown hooves curl under the foot and encourage hoof rot especially in rainy seasons. Hoof rot is an infection in the hoof. It is painful and avoidable with proper and timely hoof care. It can spread as an infection and cause other complications with your goat. Simple routine hoof trimming can help you spot something like this and cut it off before it worsens.

Routine hoof trimmings are also beneficial because it allows you to closely examine your goat. It allows you to make sure you get a good body examination. This is also a time for you to check FAMACHA scores for possible anemia.

This weekend, I visited a new goat owner to help her learn how to trim her recently acquired herds’ hooves. These new additions looked in great health as I looked around at them. We got to work and she did great with trimming them. However, when we got to one hoof on her buck, we noticed that he had crusty growth on his leg. It was mites.

image of scabs created by microscopic mites

Had we not been trimming hooves, this may have gone undetected until it was much, much worse. If it had, at that point, the mites would have severely infested her little herd.

Lastly, by trimming hooves regularly, you are getting them into the habit of being handled. It is so challenging to try to catch a goat who is just ever so “feral” from lack of handling. If there is ever a need for immediate medical treatment on a goat, or even for worming, then it makes them more manageable if they are accustomed to being handled.

Supplies Needed to Trim Your Goats’ Hooves

  • Nail clippers such as these. They don’t need to be fancy or expensive.
  • Gloves (can be plastic or gardening gloves). You don’t HAVE to have gloves, but I’d rather not mess with the fecal matter on their hooves with my bare hands.
  • Cornstarch. Keep a small amount on hand for when you accidentally cut the quick. It will stop the bleeding.

Anatomy of a Goat Hoof

illustration of goat hoof

As we proceed with a step-by-step to how to trim the hooves of your goat, you can use this diagram as a reference.

Step 1 – Securing Your Goat

There are really three choices to secure your goat:

  1. Use a stanchion. Stanchions are not just for milking. They are great anytime you need to secure your goat for inspections, injections, and maintenance care. If you don’t have one, then you can still secure your goat in one of two other ways
  2. Use a helper. A helper can straddle the goat and hold it’s head secure. Ideally, you may want to have a dog collar on hand to put on during the process so that they can be more easily handled.
  3. Use a tether. If you are working alone and without a stanchion, this is your best option. Find a fence and tether their neck and one of their back hooves to the fencing. Leave no more than a 12″ lead for the back leg, but enough lead for the head that can allow them to eat food from a bucket.

Goats don’t like anyone holding their legs. My guess is because they are a prey animal and this triggers their instincts to run. However, tethering is easier than you trying to straddle them or just pick up a hoof and start trimming. They will fight you on it.

Important to help in your cause would be to set up a bucket of feed or chaffhaye to keep your furry friend happily distracted while you clip hooves. It’s not 100% necessary, but can work in your favor for antsy goats.

After you have them tethered, offer them the food bucket and get to work on those hooves.

Step 2 – Cleaning Off the Hoof

If you are lucky, you won’t have any gunk to clean from your goat’s hoof. However, if it’s trimming time, that more than likely means mud and poop have accumulated in the hoof.

Put on your plastic gloves. Grab your clippers.

Most clippers will let you lock them in the “closed” position. Take the tip of your closed clippers and carefully dig out any debris that’s in there. You want to be able to see what you are doing. After you clear the debris, you should be able to see the sole of your goat’s hoof clearly before you trim their hooves.

If the hoof has curled over the sole, scrape out as much debris as you can. After you cut back some, you can continue to remove debris.

Step 3 – Inspecting the Hoof

If the hoof has grown and curled under, you can cut it at the point where it begins to curl.

Overgrown goat hoof that needs a trim
credit boargoatsprofitguide.com

After you have cut away the curled part of the hoof, or if you are starting with a hoof that has not begun to curl yet, you can inspect the hoof to see how far back you have to trim.

Goats’ hooves grow more at the toe than the heel end of the hoof. So, the majority of your cutting is going to be towards the toe. If you draw an imaginary line from the heel towards the toe, but parallel to the coronary band, this would be where you will essentially be cutting.

illustration of how to trim goat hoof

Essentially the goal is that, when you are finished, from the side your goat’s hoof will closely resemble a rectangle. That would mean that the distance between the bottom of the hoof and the coronary band will be approximately the same distance from the front to the back of the hoof.

I even saw a goat owner who, while inspecting the hoof, would mark the hoof where he was going to cut it with a permanent marker. This would give him guidance of where and how much to cut off.

Step 4 – Start to Trim

If you have ever owned a dog and clipped its nails, you know about the “quick” of the nail. This is essentially the “live” part of the nail. It carries the blood vessels. One clip too low and BOOM, bloody paw and a dog who is not quick to trust you to clip its nails again.

So it is with goats. Their hoof is that deadened nail. The sole carries the blood vessels. However, they are not near the surface of the sole. So, when you are trimming the goat’s hooves and soles, you must take care to do only a little at a time.

Even though you have the target of making that hoof look rectangular from the side, you may not be able to do this. If the hoof has not been tended to in a very long time, not only had the hardened hoof grown, but also the quick inside the hoof. The quick may be very close to that limit of the rectangular area.

Keeping this in mind, you can begin trimming the hoof wall a little at a time. Then you can clip a little of the sole as well. Continue to cut a bit at a time off until the white sole looks pink. Do not cut any more of the sole off at this point.

If you have marked the hoof, you will still need to cut a little at a time, especially if it’s been a long while since you’ve trimmed your goat’s hooves. Just remember when cutting, you can always cut more off. Don’t be overly ambitious lest you make your goat bleed.

As you cut, the sole and the hoof wall should be level. NEVER CUT THE WALL SHORTER THAN THE SOLE!

Step 5 – How to Know You are Finished Trimming

Here’s a video tutorial for you to follow along.

Continue to trim both sides of the hooves until you think you have seen the pink of the soles. Important to note: when you are done, both sides of the hoof should be level to one another. It should be even and level across both sides of the hoof. In other words, if you laid a ruler across the hoof, it should lay evenly and flat on both sides of the hoof.

NOTE: If there is any hole in the sole along the hoof wall that was filled in with debris, do your best to clear it out. Keep an eye on this. It can lead to hoof rot. This is a condition where bacteria can get in between the hoof wall and the sole. It can cause an infection and turn into a serious condition. It will mostly occur during a rainy period.

NOTE: Sometimes, peeling of the hoof wall may occur, you are best to trim these back. They are not a cause for concern, but also occurs during a rainy/muddy seaons.

BUT…. What If I Make the Goat Bleed?

You will, at some point, cut too low. It’s not an “if”, but a “when” you cut them too short….

DON’T PANIC! It will probably look a lot worse than it is. Most commonly cornstarch is used to stop the bleeding. Juh. They do sell powder at big box stores that will stop the bleeding, but cornstarch will work just as well.

Interesting to note that cobwebs will also work to stop bleeding. I have tried it and it works.

Hope that this has helped you have a little confidence in jumping in. Let me know how it goes! In the meantime, if you’d like to learn how to make herbal dosage balls to get them to take their “medicine”, you can follow this link!

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