Hoof Trimming 101

Hoof trimming in the herd is not the job that most dairy goat producers run to the barn to complete. However, it is a necessary task for maintaining good herd health. Lameness can cause reproduction issues, decline in milk production, and drop in body condition score. Sore hooves will reduce the activity of the doe, causing a decline in feed intake at the bunk which can cause a decline in milk production and displays of estrous. Observing the herd and trimming on a routine basis prevent lameness issues from occurring.

What do you need?

The key to quick accurate hoof trimming are sharp hoof shears and a hoof knife. Sharp instruments mean quick cuts, which can reduce stress on the goat and you. A spray bottle with soapy water and paper towel nearby allows you to wash the hoof before cutting. A clean hoof surface minimizes the chance of infection, makes it easier to trim, and your trimming tools are less likely to dull. A hoof rasp will help you file down the sharp edges on the hoof that can be left after trimming. Finally, having hydrogen peroxide or a similar disinfectant and "Bleed Stop" or cornstarch nearby are handy in case you trim too close to the quick and cause bleeding. You will also need a container with disinfectant to dip your tools between animals to prevent transfer of contagious hoof lesions.

How to do it?

Although practice makes perfect with hoof trimming there are some key details that will help make the experience positive for you and the goat.

Remain calm

Remaining calm while hoof trimming results in a better experience for you and the animal, this will reduce injury and frustration. If a goat has a negative experience with hoof trimming they will not be as quiet the next time you go to trim hooves. The more frequently you trim hooves, the more habituated the does will become to hoof trimming and will stand quietly for you.

Proper restraint

Easy, low stress handling of the goats will keep animals calm as you sort them for hoof trimming. Once you are ready to hoof trim, pick an area where you will have easy access to the hooves of the animal, easy access to your hoof trimming tools, and allows for easy animal restraint. It is not advisable to perform hoof trimming in the milk parlour as it could inhibit the goats from wanting to enter the parlour afterwards due to negative experience. Leave the parlour for milking only. Pick up the hooves a few times before trimming to calm the goat and in a manner that is comfortable. For large number of goats, a tilt table or squeeze chute can be used to process animals faster and safely. This task can be paired with other management tasks to reduce time spent per doe.

Trim off small sections of hoof

Trimming off small sections at a time will keep the goat calm while trimming, but will also allow you to make a nicely shaped hoof. Lameness can be caused by poor trimming, so pay attention to how deep you are trimming. Once you start to see pink on the hoof, stop trimming immediately. If trimming extremely long hooves, they should be trimmed gradually. Take off 1/8 inch the first trim and trim that goat again in 2 weeks and repeat until the hoof is a reasonable length. Trimming too much at one time can cause sore hooves, so gradual trimming is the key here. Avoid trimming hooves during the dry period, as many changes are occurring in the doe that can lead to lameness issues.

How often?

Observing the herd on a routine basis will help you to identify long hooves, lame animals and what animals are set to trim. If you see an increase in the number of long hooves, more frequent observation might be needed. The frequency of trimming is affected by a number of individual factors (genetics, age, breed, etc.) and environmental factors (nutrition, housing, etc.) and therefore the rate of growth is unique to each dairy goat operation. Not every doe is the same, so trimming may differ from animal to animal in your herd as well. More frequent trimming will make the task less strenuous and faster. If there is excessive growth of the hooves, have your nutritionist re-evaluate your ration, as it can suggest an energy imbalance that needs to be corrected or it could lead to laminitis. If you schedule a time every couple of weeks to observe the herd and trim hooves it will ensure the task gets done in manageable group sizes.

Why is it important?

Hoof trimming is an important part of a dairy operation. Goats free of lameness will be more productive, more active, and have longevity in the herd. The more frequently hoof trimming is done the easier the task will be and the less time it will take. It is important to note that long hooves are unacceptable to ship off farm and are an animal welfare concern. Regular trimming also reduces the chance of infectious and non-infectious hoof lesions from developing. Overgrown hooves are a risk factor for developing hoof conditions such as foot scald (interdigital dermatitis), which can lead to foot rot or foot abscess. The key to keeping productive does in the herd is to keep well-trimmed hooves.

For more information:
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E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca