It’s always important to keep goat hooves trimmed, but particularly in wet and cold weather hoof care is important. In addition to improper alignment; when it’s wet, poorly trimmed hooves can cause goats to slip or lose balance. And in cold weather, dirt and stones can collect and freeze in between the toes. However, trimming hooves is an acquired skill, and can take a bit of practice.
Thin-bladed hoof shears seem to work the best, we like the ones called “orange-handled trimmers” that can be purchased from places like Jeffers, Nasco, or Premier. Thin-bladed lawn trimmers also sometimes work; but thick-bladed or curved shears don’t work well. A hoof pick and rasp (or carpenter plane) are nice to have available for the job too (although not absolutely required).
There are also electric hoof trimmers available that look something like a Dremel and basically sand the hoof down rather than trimming it off.
How Often to Trim
It’s good idea to check the hooves on a monthly basis to see if they need trimming. Goats that are being shown need their hooves trimmed at least monthly, while goats that live on rocky terrain may never need their hooves trimmed – it all depends on the situation. Front hooves tend to get worn away faster naturally, so always check the goat’s back hooves to determine if it’s time for a trim. The illustration below shows an overgrown hoof that needs trimming badly.
Securing the Goats
As babies, it’s often easiest to simply trim the goat’s hooves while they sit in your lap. Just be careful to bend the little legs naturally while trimming. After they get larger, it’s best to secure the goat to a fence or trim them on a stand. The goat needs to be held securely so you can concentrate on trimming – they move around enough, even when secured.
As the hooves grow, they start to turn under on the sides and grow out in front, and eventually start looking like little elf shoes – see the first illustration above. The correct angle to trim the hooves is parallel with the growth lines that circle around the hoof – they are parallel to the hair at the top of the hoof. The illustration below shows the correct trimming angle.
Remove any dirt or debris from the bottom of the hoof and between the toes with the hoof pick or the point of the hoof shears. Trim off the overgrown sides and toe down to the white sole, and trim the heel only down to level with the growth ring the toe finished on (the toe and heel should be at the same level – see illustration below). Don’t trim past the hoof starting to turn pink or it’ll start bleeding (best to have some Blood Stop powder on hand in case this happens). It’s better to trim a little over a period of time rather than trim too much and cause bleeding or lameness. It may take a number of trimmings to get the goat’s hooves into good shape.
The final illustration below shows the wrong angle for trimming the hoof. Since the toes of the hoof tend to grow faster than the heel, beginners tend to remove too much heel and not enough toe. This changes the angle of the hoof and causes incorrect alignment – it causes the goat to walk “down” on its pasterns and places excess pressure on them.
There’s a video from the Ohio State Extension that shows “how-to” care for goats hooves too: http://www.extension.org/pages/Goat_Basic_Hoof_Care