Maintaining Healthy Goat Hooves

Reader Contribution by Holly Chiantaretto and Hallow Springs Farm
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The original natural state of any animal must be considered when making decisions about how to care for your livestock. The natural and original state of a goat is dry rocky hillside. This dry and rough environment helps goats to naturally maintain their hooves. When moving goats away from that natural setting you must make artificial modifications to accommodate their new environment. It often takes a period of time to figure out how far to take these accommodations to maximize the health of your herd. 

Goat Habitat and Pasture 

Goats do not like to get wet. When the rain comes to our farm as it often does in Kentucky the cows relish in it while the goats make a mad dash for the barn, crying the whole way. While there is absolutely nothing you can do to control the rainfall; you can do some things to make your herd more comfortable, and maintain the health of their hooves, in the weather they like least. 

Shelter for a herd of goats does not need to be big and expensive. If you consider the size of your animals and understand it is a place for goats, not humans, you can create a dry shelter for very little. Our goat shelter is an upcycled swimming pool donated by a friend. This shelter is goat sized and inexpensively keeps our sweet little goats out of the weather. 

Hay is excellent for absorbing urine from the goats and run-off water from rain. Scattering out hay on the floor of your goat shelter is a reasonable way to disperse your hay. Too wet of an environment for a goat can be detrimental to the overall health of your animals. The issues that result from too much moisture in your goat habitat are everything from worms to hoof rot. Creating a nice dry environment will eliminate these sorts of issues before they begin. 

Pasture rotation is important for the general health of a goat herd. As goats defecate in their pasture ground bacteria and worms build up that can cause intestinal and hoof issues. Rotation allows the bacterial and worm load in a pasture to naturally decay and new grass to grow. Incorporating steep and rocky hillsides in your pasture if possible is also a benefit to hoof health. Goats are natural climbers and will wear down hooves if they have places to climb. Even goats housed in the best of pastures will require some trimming.   

Goat Pedicures 

Goats are naturally high-maintenance animals and, therefore, require pedicures from time to time. Because goats are a lot of physical labor to tend to, we will typically do all of the worming, vaccinations, and hoof trimming at the same time. There are a variety of ways to trim goat hooves. Some people trim them on milk stands. I have even heard that some people turn them on their backs. Some of our goats are quite large and I feel like getting them on their backs would be more fight than its worth. We typically have a tag team operation as we have more than one person to complete this task. My husband holds the goats horns while I trim their hooves. This is one of the many reasons we keep our goats horned as the horns serve as convenient handles. 

To start you need a place to confine your goats so you do not have to run them down. We coax the herd into their shelter with some feed and then close them in. Our goats are very friendly so are safe to be in a small space with. If your goats are not so friendly I would recommend containing them in a space where you are separated from the herd and have the ability to cull one goat at a time. You will need a sharp set of goat shears. These shears are inexpensive and well worth the cost. They are just the right size for goat hooves.  

When you pull up the goat’s leg to inspect the hoof, take your closed set of shears and clean any debris out of the goats hoof. They have fairly rough pads on their feet; but, you will still need to use caution when scraping. When you begin to trim, take just a little at a time. Just like when cutting your own finger nails if you cut down too close to the quick you can cause the goat pain and a wound that will bleed and raise the potential of infection. It is best not to get over excited when cutting. When you start cutting you will need to be cautious to maintain an even trim on the hoof. If your goats walk away with uneven hooves it could cause great discomfort for them. 

If you have plenty of room for your goats to roam outside and places for them to climb they will naturally wear down their hooves. They will still need a trim from time to time. If you have goats that are in smaller spaces you will need to trim their hooves more often. 

Holly Chiantaretto is an organic farmer and goat breeder in Kentucky where she also raises cattle, pigs, and chickens and preserves the harvests from her garden. Connect with Holly at Hallow Springs Farm and on Facebook. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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