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Hoof trimming - the ins and outs!

March 15, 20247 min read

Today we are going to look at trimming our farm animals’ feet. There is an old saying - no foot no horse and this equally applies to our farm animals.

Before we delve into the hows and whys of foot trimming, we first need to make a distinction between hooved animals and those with toenails! Yep, alpacas, llamas and camels have toe nails, while sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, horses and donkeys have hooves. 

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the animal has a toenail or a hoof, they all need to be kept healthy in the foot department.

Laminae

Why do we need our animals to have healthy feet?

Grazing animals, by their very nature, need to be able to move around easily to graze and meet their nutritional requirements. If they are impeded by overgrown hooves or toenails, they will be eating less as they won’t move around as much and can also develop joint and tendon problems. In addition they can contract bugs like footrot which are extremely painful. Good foot health is an important part of animal welfare. So, let’s get into hoof trimming!

Sheep

How often?

Depending on your environment - eg soft soils, stony, dry or wet, your sheep will need their feet trimmed at a minimum of once a year. If the ground is never hard or dry, it will need to be more often, perhaps three times a year. Different breeds will grow their feet at different rates also. Fine wool sheep, unless they are running on mountains, will generally have faster growing hooves. They are usually white hooves as opposed to the black hooves of strong wool and black face sheep. Black hooves tend to grow more slowly and seem to maintain their shape better.  

External hoof

What do we need?

A good sharp pair of footrot shears, hoof snips or flat blade secateurs. It is not a good idea to use a knife, knives can slip and cause nasty injuries to human and animal. 

If it is wet and the animals are in muddy areas, we will also want some sort of spray for their feet to eliminate bugs that may be growing between the toes. A footrot spray or antibiotic spray is good. Sheep can also be foot bathed - this has been discussed in another article, which you can reference.

How do we trim?

The sheep can either be tipped up - as it would be for shearing, or if you have a sheep handler, put into the handler - this certainly makes the job a lot easier and saves your back!

Once we have the sheep in the position we want, the first step is to clean out debris from between the toes. Once the foot is clean and we can see what we are doing, the next step is to create a nice even pair of toes with a good flat sole. Any loose overgrown bits should be trimmed off, but care must be taken to not take off too much of the outer wall as this can lead to more problems. So, over-trimming is as bad as not being trimmed! Once the feet look like feet again, if there is no need for spray, the sheep can be let go.   

Goats

Goats generally need their feet trimmed more often than sheep, particularly if they are on grass or indoors. They are very susceptible to damp conditions and can suffer from footrot if not carefully managed. Goats on grass should have their feet inspected and trimmed at least every three to four months. Goats are very vocal, so in addition to our normal foot trimming equipment, earplugs may be a good idea! The same principles  we apply to our sheep hoof trimming also applies to goats. At the end of the day we want a nice even foot that will distribute the weight of the goat evenly and allow it to move around freely. 

Internal hoof

Cattle

How often?

In an ideal world, cattle should have their hooves trimmed six-monthly, but once a year is probably more practical.

How do we trim?

Trimming the hooves of cattle should be left up to an experienced hoof trimmer. There are people who trim cattle hooves much in the same way as a farrier looks after horses. Some cow hoof trimmers have an entirely mobile foot trimming crush which the animal goes into. It is then supported as each leg is held securely while the hoof is trimmed and reshaped. The most important thing is that you will need a good set of yards and a decent race for the cattle to move up to the crush. 

Trim

Once you make contact with a trimmer, ask exactly what they require in order to trim your cattle. Having some extras like Vetwrap and spray on hand will be helpful, especially if the animal has an abscess or other problems discovered during trimming. If you think you can do your own cattle, watch plenty of videos or ask to go out with a hoof trimmer to see how it is done. If you have dairy farms nearby, they may let you watch when they are trimming their cows’ hooves.   

Alpacas and llamas

How often?

As we said at the start of the article, our camelids - alpacas, llamas and camels have toenails. Just like us they need to be trimmed - once a year is usually enough unless you see a nail growing crooked sooner.

How do we trim?

The easiest time to trim their toenails is when they are tied down for shearing. If it is not possible to attend to the feet at shearing, then it will need to be done in a pen or yard. Two people will be needed, one to hold the animal and the other to lift the leg,much in the same way as a horse. A good sharp pair of hoof trimmers is used to take back the excess nail. Alpacas and llamas don’t generally suffer from the same foot conditions as hooved animals, but it is always good to inspect the whole foot to make sure there are no sores or cracks that might affect the animal.

Pigs

How often?

Pigs hooves should be trimmed at least every six months. 

How do we trim?

If you are starting off with piglets, get them used to having their feet handled from an early age. Rubbing their bellies and handling the foot at the same time means they will form a positive association with their feet being touched. 

If you have pet pigs, trimming their feet can be as simple as having them lie on their side while one person distracts them with belly rubs. The other person can then trim their feet at the same time. 

You can use sheep footrot shears on smaller pigs, and a grinder, dremel, or hoof knife can be used on bigger pigs. For very large pigs, you may need large pruners as the feet can be extremely tough to get through. 

As with all hoof trimming, it is important to not take the hoof back too far and cause injury. If you have older pigs that have been brought in or pigs that aren’t used to being handled, then they will need restraining. This can be done by using a soft rope around the snout and tying the pig to a railing or against a wall. It should only be for a short time to minimise stress. If you have very large pigs, it may be best to have a vet come in and sedate the animal to trim the hooves. 

To recap:

  • Good hoof/foot care equals healthier animals.

  • Have everything you need ready to go for hoof trimming.

  • If you are not sure what you are doing, get help!      

We’ve been talking about regular hoof maintenance in this blog but any animal who is limping or lame should be treated immediately.


For more great information on looking after livestock, check out our courses

  


Hoof trimmingfarm animalssheep hoovesgoat hoovescattle hoovesalpaca toenailsfoot careanimal healthpig hoovesllama toenails lameness

Amanda Bowes

Amanda Bowes is a writer and lifestyle farmer. She keeps sheep and cattle

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