Hoof and Leg Issues in Pack Goats

Reader Contribution by Lauren Hall Ruddell and Planet Goat
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They say among horsemen “no hoof, no horse.” This is just as true with pack goats. Proactive hoof and leg care is critical to a pack goat fitness and packing longevity. Many things can go wrong with goat hooves and legs.

Hooves can begin to take on a funny growth pattern in mid-maturity. Sometimes the dark gray matter of the hoof bulb begins to take over. This can cause the goat to look like its walking on stilts (hard on the goat’s knees) or grow into one claw of the hoof more so than the other, causing the goat to become knock-kneed. This can be a laming condition if left untreated.

Normal hoof trimming may not suffice. In the picture below, you can see how one leg seems to curve into the other. Two months ago, they curved toward each other equally. Through therapeutic hoof management, I was able to straighten one leg and the other is steadily improving. What was required was aggressive trimming of the outer claws of both front feet. The inner claws were left a bit long as a counter balance, almost like an insert in an athletic shoe for people who pronate.

On goats with a tendency for bulb incursions, continuous aggressive trimming of the bulb is also required. In winter, when animals are not being as closely observed as other seasons, hoof problems can really creep up on you quickly. This snuck up on me.

The front left leg responded to custom trimming more than the right, but the right is steadily responding. In another two months, I anticipate that both legs will stand square and balanced. Then, this goat can be fully engaged in pre-season physical conditioning with his cohort without knee pain. This is very important for this particular pack string because this goat is the size of a small Shetland pony and critical to packing logistics.

Left knee in photo (his right) leans in toward left all the time.  Right knee in photo now straight.

What’s worse than bad feet and knees? A broken leg. This is every goat packer’s worst leg oriented nightmare. It is not, however, the kiss of death. Case in point: One of my slightly nervous 7-year-old packers named Snickerdoodle broke his leg leaping a fence to get away from motorcycle noise (or so we think). He was rushed to the vet.

It was a bad but clean break, just below the knee.

The two vets attending had very different views on how to manage the situation. The young vet was skeptical of the goat’s chances of walking normally again, and certainly not without pins in the leg. This would have been a $900 proposition. The older vet suggested a simple cast like that for a broken arm for people. We chose the cast.

Author on left, vet on right and Snickerdoodle in the middle looking worried!

Ten weeks later, the cast came off and he was better than new. He packed for many years after that and we enjoyed him until he passed away of old age at 13 years old.


Snickerdoodle one year after recovery with formerly broken leg in foreground.

The moral of this story is…consistent health care and even nursing when needed is well worth the time and trouble to extend the life of your pack goat.

Lauren Hall Ruddell operates Planet Goat in the Utah high desert, one hour west of Salt Lake City. As the name of the operation suggests, goats are the consuming passion. Nubian dairy goats provide milk and adorable baby goats yearly, while the wethers occasionally, and vigorously, earn their keep in the back country. Find Lauren online at Planet Goat. Read all of Lauren’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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