A goat’s hooves require proper care in order to keep the animal healthy and thriving. Left uncared for, lameness will occur via overgrown toes, hoof rot, hoof scald, and abscesses. With continued neglect, the pain becomes so great that the goat becomes incapable of walking on its feet, causing it to crawl along on its knees as it attempts to forage. Soon, starvation sets in as its feeble attempts at crawling become insufficient to sustain life. However, in most cases, these ailments are preventable through regular hoof trimmings, sound pasture management, and good nutrition.
Types of Hoof Infection
Hoof rot and hoof scald are quite similar and are often confused with one another for good reason. Both are the result of bacterial infections in the hoof, and both cause debilitating pain and lameness. However, scald is caused by the bacterium Fusobacterium necrophorum, while rot is caused by a combination of F. necrophorum and Dichelobacter nodosus. These infections often occur simultaneously in two or more hooves, although it’s not uncommon for a single hoof to harbor these infections. Standing water and consistently moist or wet pastures and paddocks, such as those seen in a wet spring and fall, contribute to both types of bacterial growth with insufficient hoof care, further encouraging the development of these highly contagious infections.
The key tangible differences between the two infections reside in their location and in the presence or absence of odor. Hoof rot typically appears between the hoof wall and the foot, at the tips of the toes, and occasionally along the bottoms or heels of the feet as overgrown hoof walls wrap underneath the hoof, allowing wet, warm manure, dirt, and other bacteria-laden debris to collect against the tenderfoot, causing the flesh to rot. Given time, the infected flesh turns black and emits an unmistakable, foul, rotting flesh odor. By this point, the goat is often lame.
Hoof scald, on the other hand, typically emits no foul odor and is most often located between the two toes of the hoof. Often caused by a packing of mud, feces, and other debris between the toes, this particular infection can readily occur despite the best hoof trimmings available, as the hairs present between the toes naturally collect wet debris over time. However, overgrown toes from poor trimming encourage this packing of muck. Regardless of the exact cause, if caught early, the tender flesh between the toes will be a bit red and irritated, and there may be hair loss. As the infection progresses, red blisters will appear that soon burst, revealing raw, open wounds in the flesh. Left untreated, lameness will occur just as with hoof rot.
A hoof abscess, while still a type of painful infection that often results in lameness, is different from rot and scald, in that a hoof injury typically occurs prior to the infection. This may occur simply from a goat stepping onto a sharp rock, landing wrong on a climbing platform, or receiving other relatively small injuries. Once the injury occurs, bacteria enter the wound and infection takes over, often presenting with heat and tenderness to the touch in one area of a single hoof. Left untreated, swelling and eventual extruding an emission of pus occurs at the injury site.
Abscesses may occur with or without proper hoof trimming. However, the incidence of missteps and other hoof injuries increases as a goat’s hooves continue to grow and become misshapen. Overgrown toes, high heels, wall separation, painful rot and scald, and anything that causes a goat to step differently than its original manner of walking opens up the hooves to injury. By keeping a goat’s hooves well-trimmed, abscess-causing injuries are kept to a minimum.
The foundation of any good health program, regardless of species, is sound nutrition. Just as people, horses, cattle, cats, and every other living creature require good nutrition to remain healthy, so do goats. And while poor nutrition is often thought to reveal itself primarily through a poor coat, lackluster eyes, and low production, a goat’s hooves display the effects of insufficient nutrition as well. Soft, brittle, cracking hooves, as well as a tendency toward hoof infections, are often signs of poor nutrition. Without proper nutrition, a goat’s immune system can’t fight off infection properly, regardless of where that infection resides. Also, proper hoof growth depends on a goat having sufficient levels of copper, zinc, selenium, and vitamins A, D, and E in its system. Without these key nutritional components, no other management practices will suffice in providing overall goat health, nor in keeping sound hooves.
In addition to an effective nutritional program, a solid pasture management program must be implemented to prevent the collection of wet, bacteria-laden feces, dirt, and debris. Keep housing as manure-free as possible, with ample dry bedding laid down to provide dry footing. Before feeding areas and other high-traffic areas become soggy or downright muddy, move the feeding stations to higher ground. Sometimes this may be accomplished by stacking concrete blocks side by side as a type of climbing station or feeding station combo, particularly where space is limited. Fencing off those extra-wet areas for a time to allow them the opportunity to recover and dry out is helpful as well, especially during extra rainy seasons or prolonged snow cover. When possible, incorporate rock or gravel into high-traffic areas to encourage hoof wear, as well as to provide better drainage. If you utilize portable fencing, move the fencing frequently to avoid creating muddy enclosures.
Good pasture management and good nutrition provide the basis of healthy hooves, which must be supported by proper and regular hoof trimming. Most goats kept on soft pasture need their hooves trimmed every few weeks, while others exhibit slow hoof growth and only need a trimming every two or three months. The key is to pay close attention to each individual goat’s hooves and their growth, and then trim accordingly. Between trimmings, monitor closely for broken, cracked, or otherwise damaged hoof walls that need to be smoothed down to reduce the likelihood of injuries from sharp hoof edges. It’s also a good practice to pick out any collected debris from the hooves every day during rainy seasons, as they’ll collect muck to some degree regardless of how well-trimmed you keep them. Above all, make it a regular practice to perform an overall inspection of each hoof every few days, or at least once a week.
How to Trim a Goat’s Hoof
A well-trimmed goat hoof has an upright, blocky appearance with the coronet band, or coronary band, running parallel to the ground. An overgrown hoof, on the other hand, often exhibits curling hoof walls that wrap around the bottom of the sole or flip out and upward to the outside of the hoof. Both debilitating and painful to walk on, these issues require regular hoof trimming to prevent problems and to reduce the likelihood of infections. To obtain a good hoof trim, follow these guidelines.
For the most basic setup, you’ll need a good, sharp set of hoof shears and a stanchion or some other way to safely secure the goat in a manner that’s comforting to it. Shears come in all styles, with the pointed shears working as both hoof trimmers and picks. You may also choose to purchase separate hoof picks, such as those used in equine hoof care. A rasp is helpful in smoothing the sharp edges left behind, although these aren’t entirely necessary, especially if your goats have access to rocks or concrete blocks that naturally smooth the hoof edges for them. A supply of Bloodstop is important to have on hand as well, in the event you accidentally nick the tender, blood-rich flesh below the callused tissue. It’s also a good idea to have a bleach-and-water mixture available for cleaning the shears between each goat to reduce the likelihood of transferring infectious bacteria from one goat to another.
A well-trimmed hoof is level from toe to heel, with the growth rings running parallel to the ground. The overall length of both toes should be as close to even as possible, although this isn’t always doable with older goats. Hoof walls should be level with the fleshy sole, too. Overall, the hoof should have a boxy look to it. To get the best idea of what a well-shaped hoof looks like, look at a new kid’s feet before they start growing out. This is the best example of what you’re striving to duplicate.
Once you have your goat comfortably secured and it’s feeling safe, gently pick out all debris from the entire hoof. Pay attention to any tender spots the goat indicates, and inspect thoroughly for discoloration, odor, wounds, and anything out of the ordinary. Don’t forget to inspect and clean between the toes, as this is the area where hoof scald will hide.
After the hoof is cleaned, take your shears and carefully trim the bottom edge of the hoof walls, being careful to stay parallel with the growth rings. Take small cuts only, as you don’t want to trim the hoof wall shorter than the sole. Once the wall is level with the sole, take small cuts across the sole and heel, working to create as flat of a surface as possible across the entire area of flesh. As you’re making your cuts, be on the lookout for any black or otherwise discolored tissue. Remove as much unhealthy tissue as you can without causing bleeding, and pay careful attention to any odor. Once you see a little pink, stop trimming, as this is where the blood flow is going to be. You don’t want to nick the tissue and cause bleeding, which invites infection.
However, if the goat’s feet have been neglected for some time and are severely overgrown, obtaining the perfect trim may not be possible right away. Instead, keep the trimming session short, and stop work before the animal becomes uneasy. Return in about a week to resume the work, continuing this pattern over time until the hooves are the best they can be for that particular goat.
An often overlooked area to trim is the dewclaws, or the little pads of tissue right above the backsides of the hooves. Some goats don’t need these trimmed, while others’ dewclaws will grow several inches long if not trimmed. To trim, like with the hooves, carefully take small cuts or slices until you see a little patch of pink appear, indicating the blood flow just beneath the surface.
Should bleeding occur during any part of the trimming process, apply Bloodstop powder along with a little pressure, if needed. If hoof rot, hoof scald, or abscesses are found or suspected, coat the entire area with Kopertox, and allow it to dry. Repeat daily until all signs of infection are gone. It’s also a good idea to take photographs of the area and consult with your veterinarian to see if an antibiotic or zinc sulfate food bath is in order, particularly if the infection is severe.
Proper goat hoof care that incorporates sound nutrition, good pasture management, and well-timed hoof trimming should be an integral part of any herd management program, ensuring the health and well-being of the animals. Without these key elements, herd health will decline rapidly, leading to painful hoof infections, lameness, and even death — all of which are preventable in all but the most extreme cases.
Kristi Cook and her family have been building their farmstead for years.