I feel a little odd about posting a how-to when I am so new to something myself. However, in the process of rehabilitating our doe, Sara, I found it very difficult to find the info I needed to trim her hooves properly. Therefore, in the hopes of helping another newbie out, here goes…
There are lots of websites, books, and other resources available regarding the basics of trimming goat hooves. Most of them, though, start with an already-healthy goat, and give a basic trim. Certainly, you should be familiar with that type of trim so that you can know what the eventual goal will be. As I found with Sara, though, her feet and overall condition looked NOTHING like those goats. I imagine many back-yard goat enthusiasts buy a new goat from some other backyard goat keeper, and the hooves (and possibly body condition overall) are a mess. When it came to trimming, my big question was always, “how far is far enough?” or, along the same lines, “how do I know if I’ve gone TOO far?”
I will apologize in advance for the photos. I don’t have a great camera for detailed close-up photos, and the lighting in these is less than ideal. I also didn’t take great “before” photos early on, as I had no idea I would be doing such a post, so please bear with me as I try to use what I have to at least give you an idea of the process I have gone through with Sara.
You can read more about Sara and her situation here . When she first arrived, her hooves were very pointed from overly long toes, narrow, slanting in all directions, and just generally a mess.
The next photo is after I started the trimming work, but you can still see the bad slanting of the outside hoof.
All of her feet had the different halves not bearing weight evenly (like the photo above), so on each foot, one side of the hoof was fairly straight, wide, and healthier looking, while the other was narrow, tilted, and had more growth (from not wearing down the same way). The worst was her right front, which suffered from “bent leg,” initially caused by a nutritional deficiency and exaserbated by the extra weight of her pregnancy.
I did my best, over time, to make Sara match the pictures I had looked at. Her hoof wall was so curled under in the beginning, I could hardly find the pad. Then, within a week, the slanted side of each hoof would be curled under again.
Think about it this way…. a goat’s hoof is a lot like your shoes. If you wear hard-sided dress shoes or boots (comparable to walking on the hard hoof wall for the goat), things are a bit more slippery and your legs get sore faster than if you wear tennis shoes, which offer cushion and traction (comparable to the goat evenly distributing weight on it’s hoof pads). Made of a substance similiar to your fingernails, the hoof wall is supposed to offer support, stability, and protection to the foot. The fleshy pad it surrounds is designed to offer traction, grip, and expand and contract with terrain pressure. If the hoof has been allowed to grow too long, or in other ways not allow the weight to distribute properly, then the pad cannot work as designed. That, in turn, causes the hoof wall to further change in it’s functionability, and eventually, the entire shape of the bone structure could begin to change from the stress. Not a good situation.
So, with Sara, I would trim the hoof wall down to even with the hoof pad. Even this was difficult, though, as her pad had grown at an almost 45′ angle in some cases, essentially conforming to the slanted hoof walls. I quickly realized that I had to focus on straightening those slanted hooves before I could fix that problem (remember, the pad gets filed down with daily use, so conforms easily). I used several methods to do this, including trimming the slanted hoof slightly lower than the straight hoof side, AND trimming the outside of the slanted hoof a little lower than the inside of it. The intent here was to force her to roll her foot ever-so-slightly to more evenly distribute the weight. She had grown so accustomed to essentially balancing her weight on one side, though, that even this took some work. So, after I trimmed, I actually duct-taped the two parts of the hoof together to prevent the splay and encourage the proper weight distribution. (NOTE: Should you choose to use duct tape, remember, it collects dirt, hair, and debris. Be sure to check and change it regularly, or you will wind up with other problems! It should also be used as short a time as absolutely necessary.)
Because of the way her hooves were shaped, the hoof wall was able to grow extremely fast (because they never really got filed down through use). This rapid growth and poor weight distribution caused the excess growth to curl very quickly. For the first month, I literally had to trim Sara weekly. By the second month, the weight had evened a bit, so I was able to trim twice a month. As her weight began to balance, and her bent leg straightened, the hoof walls began to file more naturally, the growth and curl rate lessened, and the pad began to reshape to a more natural angle for weight bearing. By the third and fourth month, I was able to go to once a month. By the fifth month, I was finally able to put her on a schedule with the other goats–trimming every 2 months or so.
This healing and corrective process probably could have happened a bit faster had I been more knowledgable regarding how much to trim off. Recently, I was blessed to have a very experienced goat breeder/shower come over and take a look at Sara and offer her advice and a demo for how to correct the last few angle issues. So, here is the how-to photos:
If you are new to trimming, you really need to have an idea regarding the angle to which you are trying to trim. Ideally, you want to trim the bottom of the hoof to be parallel with the “line” where the top of the hoof and leg meet. (In extreme cases, like Sara’s, it will take several trims to get to that point). If the leg is very hairy (like below), the first step is to quickly trim that hair.
You aren’t looking for a perfect hair cut, rather, you just need an idea where that line is. Compare the above photo to the below one:
Just as a side note, in the photo above, notice the small indentation about 1/3 of the way up the front of the hoof. This is the division between the old growth (prior to the corrective trimming) and the new growth that happened along with the improved nutrition. I had estimated it would take 3-4 months to grow a new hoof. In actuality, I guess it’s about 5-6 months. You can also see how the new growth is coming in at a proper angle, whereas the old growth still shows signs of the pointed toes. With corrective work, sometimes there comes a point where you can’t just fix it. Rather, you do the best you can, but then you may have to wait for the new growth, and “train” it to grow in properly, as I did with Sara.
Once you can see the line you are trying to trim to, it’s time to trim. Lift the hoof, and you will see the hoof wall. In a healthy hoof, you will see the fleshy pad in the middle (like below), but in a bad hoof, the wall may be rolled over and hiding the pad. First step is to trim the wall and rolled parts until they are basically even with the pad. In the below, untrimmed photo, you can see how the INSIDE wall of the right hoof rolls over onto the pad, while the outside wall actually rolls out slightly. This is all based on the distribution of her weight, and therefore, how the pressure is applied to the hoof.
Next, you want to trim off any excess toe and heel pad, so the toe point is minimized (a nice round shape is ideal), and the heel is basically even with the pad. The next photo shows the difference in an almost-trimmed hoof. You can see how the hoof on the left is more evenly trimmed, the wall and pad are easily defined, the heel is trimmed very slightly, and the toe point has been trimmed off to create a softer, rounder, more balanced shape. To the contrary, the hoof on the right has not been finished, so the heel pad is significantly larger than the foot pad, and the toe is long and pointed. This foot happens to be the one that had bent leg previously, and this right side was the slanted, narrow one. I am still working on creating a wider shape, but hopefully you get the idea.
Now, here is the clincher. Once this “expert” visitor showed me how far I could go, this trimming work became so much easier all of a sudden! I suddenly knew what to look for. Particularly in corrective trimming, once you have the basic shape, you literally begin “shaving” off small layers at the time to remove excess wall, pad, and toe. Don’t worry about the heel too much at this point. You will see the pad takes on a more white and transparent coloring the more you trim. Once you have gone far enough, you will just begin to see a faint pink tinge through/under the white coloring. That is the quick, and it’s what you want to avoid cutting. HOWEVER, in the case of a hoof that has grown far too long, there may come a point where you have be a bit risky in order to straighten it out. Particularly if the pad has changed it’s angles, you run an increased risk of nipping the quick. Use great caution at this stage. IF you do wind up going a bit too far, don’t panic. It’s akin to chewing your fingernail too far back. It will begin to ooze blood, and it could be sore for a day or two, but it isn’t the end of the world. I only include the next photo to show you that it isn’t the end of the world. In this case, I had reached the visible faint-pink stage of the trim, quit shaving, and then took off the remaining point of the toe to even it up. It turned out that the quick had grown ever-so-slightly further into the toe than the rest of the pad, so when I clipped it, I just barely clipped into the quick. It literally oozed tiny drops of blood through the “pores” of the remaining pad, that blended into what appears to be a very large drop of blood. Don’t worry, it isn’t as bad as it looks.
It is easy to see, though, the importance of slowly shaving small layers at a time, so if you do hit an unexpected area of quick, it will just ooze and heal quickly, rather than bleed profusely and cause soreness. So far, Sara has not shown any soreness from this oops, as it was quite mild.
Finally, put the hoof down and check the angle. If it is too upright, then go ahead and trim a bit more heel. If it is too pointed toward the front, then trim more of the front pad and hoof wall (if you haven’t reached the quick already). In the next photo, the hoof is getting very close to correct. I am still working on final angles, but I have trimmed as much as I can in this session. Notice, I cut a little extra off the toe, to continue encouraging her to put more weight on the front, and to allow the pad to continue to expand and widen out.
OK, so that’s my how to. I really hope it helps take some of the scary unknowns out of the process for you. I wish I had known about the pink coloring of the quick so I wouldn’t have worried about it so much earlier. And remember, there is no rush. On a really poor hoof, it will take time and multiple trims. In addition, you should also ensure the goat is getting proper nutrition so she can grow a HEALTHY new hoof as you go through the process. If, at any point, you are concerned about changing too much at once, then just stop, wait a week, and then try a bit more.