Tuesday, June 23, 2015

More alike than different

Michaele left this comment on one of my hoof posts the other day: "This was very informative! I really enjoyed reading it. Now can you do one on goat hooves?"  So, a word about hooves for all of you sheep, goat and cow folks out there...

I think Michaele may have been joking, but in all seriousness, every single thing I have written about horse and donkey hooves DOES apply.  Everything is much the same.  The hoof wall should mirror the interior structures and there needs to be adequate sole depth.   Each claw of a cloven hoof has a distal phalanx (coffin bone), the lamellar connections are identical and nutrition is just as critical. Each claw needs to be trimmed separately, but in balance with its mate.

 I found this drawing of the anatomy of a cloven hoof....

It looks a lot like this drawing of a horse hoof doesn't it?

Here's a bit of trivia that few people seem to know:  Cows get laminitis just like horses do.  In fact, it is the second leading cause of lameness in cows with hoof-rot (thrush) coming in first.  The only reason it does not happen more frequently in cattle is that most cows are generally either young, growing stock or are kept in some stage of gestation and/or lactation so their nutritional needs are higher.  You also won't hear about it much because a cow or goat with laminitis generally gets shoved onto a truck bound for the slaughter house.  Laminitis is a very big problem for anyone who keeps oxen.  That is because oxen (which can be of any breed) are generally castrated, mature males who have lower nutritional requirements. 

Another bit of trivia: Dairy and beef farmers who have a lot of foot problems in their herds will call in their feed supplier to analyze the rations and balance the mineral content of the feed.  

I don't meant to sound like a broken record, but I do hope ya'all are seeing a trend here:)

Healthy feet have a number of things in common, regardless of species:
  • They are short
  • The front of the hoof is straight from hairline to ground
  • The outer surface of the hooves are smooth and have a natural shine
All the things that these very nice little goat hooves demonstrate....

Once you know what a good foot should look like and begin to understand how the outer hoof needs to mirror the inner anatomy, you can start to see all the things wrong in the hoof below (I stole these from the web)
If I was going to try to trim these poor hooves, I would start at the heel, trimming the overgrown walls down to just above the sole and doing my best to restore the medial/lateral balance.  Then bring the toes back.  These hooves are damaged enough that it would likely take several trimmings.

Remember Shannon, the cow who came to stay with me for a few weeks (she did finally have her calf while I was away at the conference, pictures coming soon)?  These are her feet....

They are over-long and could use a trim, which I am NOT going to be doing.  Shannon is not that cooperative.  To trim these, I would start at the heels and then bring the toes back, probably to about where the shiny black on the bottom meets the duller part about an inch up.

Even without picking them up, there is a lot of interesting stuff going on here that can be seen just from the outside.  As a side note: Shannon is perfectly sound on these, but if she were a riding horse, she would not stay that way for long without help.

The first things you notice are that the claws are not short and straight like the nice goat hooves above.  They also have many horizontal rings in them and the top 3/4 have a permanently dirty, rough and dull look.

I have to inject a bit of history here so you can understand what you are seeing.  All of these Ayrshire cows came off a farm belonging to some friends of FB's.  They are a couple who own a very small dairy in a neighboring town.  Last fall, the man was diagnosed with cancer and given a very scary prognosis.  Faced with this, they sold off most of their cows, but did not want to part with all of them and they asked FB if she would board them for her over the winter.  She does not usually board cows, but how could she say no?

She agreed, but only if they could provide food for them and this is where trouble started.  After sampling a bale from a local farmer (if you can call him that), they bought 60 balages for these cows.  The bales they sampled were fine before the purchase where fine, but the miserable crook who sold them pulled a switch and delivered rotten feed - and I do mean rotten.  Unfortunately, with balage, there is no way to know what it will be like until it is unwrapped and they did not discover this evil perfidy until January, leaving them scrambling to find feed for 25 cows in middle of the worst winter in recorded history.

With great effort, they did find good quality feed.  Everyone had plenty to eat and survived the winter from hell (FB just barley) and the big cancer scare turned out not to be a big deal after all so everyone gets to live happily ever after.  However, the feed that they were able to get came from several different farms and was certainly not as good a quality as the stuff FB generally has and you can see it in the feet.

Look close at the bottom one inch of this foot....

....See how shiny, black and smooth it is?  That is what healthy hoof should look like.  See how the upper 3/4 of the hoof is dull, dirty and has numerous horizontal rings in it?  Notice also how the claws become curved instead of flowing in a straight line from the hair to the ground. 

That is what happens when a hoof becomes overgrown and if you don't have the right amounts and balance of minerals in the diet.  If this were a horse or donkey, I would be very worried about laminitis.  Putting Shannon on a supplement that contains high levels of zinc and copper would help these feet a great deal.  She is now out on grass at FB's.  It will be interesting to see how her feet change after a summer of rich grazing.  

It may seem like a daunting task, but hooves of all species have more in common than they differ.  If you have a goat, sheep or cow that needs trimming, start by envisioning what the foot should look like based on the inner structures.  Get yourself a rasp (because it takes a lot of work to hurt a hoof with just a rasp) and start by balancing the heels and shortening the toe.  And check the diet.  You will never trim a healthy foot without a healthy diet.  That holds true no matter what you are trying to trim.


  1. Is there a mineral supplement with high copper/zinc and no iron that can be given to goats that you know of?

    1. I do not know of any. That doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. I do not have goats and have never bothered to balance a ration for them. Goats and sheep need copper and zinc just as much as any animal, but they absorb and utilize it differently than horses do. Do NOT feed equine or cattle products to your goats or sheep as too much copper can also be toxic. I would suggest that you speak to your local extension agent to find out what your soil is like. If you get your feed tested, I could help you figure out how to balance the ration, but I don't know enough about available goat feeds to recommend one.

  2. I doubt I'd try and trim a moose!
    That said when I had goats, they were very good about letting me trim them. Not so much with cattle though, I recall the dairy I worked for had someone come in and do the herd.
    Yep all toes need to be trimmed and good food is a real key to a healthy foot!

  3. Is that a moose? please explain how a wild animal keeps its hooves trimmed.

  4. So now you have moose traveling to your place to get help with their overgrown hoves!
    (Seriously, is this picture photoshopped? Or is this a wild animal turned couch potato?)

  5. Where are those pictures of Bess' feet that we took?

    1. I could be wrong, but I get the impression that you are growing quite fond of Bess?
      By the way, I searched the internets for scientific research on PPD in cows. Found nothing! Possibly the perfect niche for you, Farm Buddy? With the appropriate government funding, you could work and do all the research from home (i.e., where Bess lives). Imagine!

    2. Ugh. Should have inserted a few ;-) -- without, I totally sound like a demented person! Oh well.