Goat Hoof Trimming Made Easy
Hoof Trimming Tool Recommendations to Make the Job Easier
Reading Time: 8 minutes
Goat hoof trimming is a necessary part of keeping and raising goats. When a goat cooperates, hoof trimming can easily and smoothly fit into your regular maintenance routine. But if a goat persists in struggling and kicking, hoof trimming can become a dreaded and dangerous chore. The trick is to teach the goat to want to cooperate. The most cooperative goat is one that is familiar with your goat hoof trimming equipment.
Hoof Trimming Equipment
The two most important pieces of goat hoof trimming equipment are a pair of good sharp trimming shears and a comfortable, well-lit place where the goat can be easily restrained.
Goat hoof trimming shears come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Over the decades I have spent a small fortune buying just about every style touted as being the latest best thing. Some of them pinch my hand when I squeeze the handles. Others are too large to operate with one hand. The blades on some shears separate on tough jobs. And most of the shears don’t stay sharp for long.
One day I was wandering down the tool aisle at Home Depot when I spied a pair of Fiskars Titanium Nitride Number Eight Shop Snips. They looked perfect for goat hoof trimming, and they turned out to be exactly that. Best of all, that first pair has remained sharp after countless uses. I have since bought a second pair so I can keep one in the doe barn and one in the buck barn.
Fiskars Snips are the only tool I use for hoof trimming. Other goat keepers use a variety of tools including a brush to clean off the hoof, a horse hoof knife for picking out debris, a utility knife for smoothing ragged edges, and a hoof rasp for tough hooves. I’ve tried some of these options and have never found them necessary or particularly helpful.
Some goat keepers wear gloves for hoof trimming, which is probably a good idea. A pair of work gloves will help protect your hands from getting cut with the snips. Tight fitting nitrile gloves will protect your hands from bacteria. Like a lot of other goat keepers, I prefer to use my bare hands, but I do keep povidone iodine handy in case I cut myself (or accidentally cut a hoof too deep and cause it to bleed), and I wash my hands immediately after trimming hooves. I also keep my tetanus shot up-to-date.
As for the comfortable, well-lit place to work, a goat grooming stand or dairy goat milk stand is ideal. An Internet search will reveal a variety of different styles, as well as plans for homemade stands. Some are made of wood, others are made of metal. Some are free standing, others are affixed to a wall.
Most stands consist of a platform with a stanchion, or head lock, at one end. With a free standing platform, you have ready access to all four hooves. When the stand is affixed to a wall, the hooves that are closest to the wall can be difficult to reach. For that reason, my wall-mounted homemade milk stand has a stanchion at each end. Both stanchions are hinged to the back wall. For milking, I lock the right-hand stanchion to the platform. For hoof trimming, I trim the hooves on the near side, then turn the goat around on the platform and lock in the left-hand stanchion to trim the other two hooves.
Using a platform for goat hoof trimming has lots of advantages. One is that the goat is restrained and at a comfortable height for you to reach its hooves. Another advantage is that you can sit while working. I have seen people hunch over a goat that’s standing on the ground, and just watching them work makes my back ache. By sitting comfortably you will do a better job and are less likely to injure yourself or the goat.
A note about Angora goats: An Angora goat is usually trimmed set back on its rump — a position used for shearing as well as for hoof trimming. If you try that with a mature dairy or meat breed, though, you’re liable to get kicked in the face.
A good light is essential for hoof trimming. Some goat keepers trim hooves outdoors, or on a covered porch. My milk stand is inside the barn and is not portable, so my handy husband mounted a pair of LED fixtures to the wall above and on either side of the milk stand to give me strong light no matter which hoof I’m trimming.
Training a Goat to Stand
It’s so easy to forget about goat hoof trimming until the job needs to be done. But a goat has to learn to stand on three legs while the fourth foot is lifted to be trimmed. Learning this skill takes time. The best time to start is when the goat is young.
Soon after my baby goats are born I start putting mama on the milk stand to check out the health of her udder. Letting the kids follow mama gives them time to explore and helps them learn that the milk stand is not a scary thing. After checking out the doe, I leave her on the stand with a little snack of goat chow and take the time to handle the kids, making a point to run my fingers over their legs and hooves.
When the kids are a few weeks old and still small enough to sit on my lap, I give them a gentle trim. A kid’s hooves don’t need much trimming, but I want to get them used to the idea.
When they grow big enough to nibble a little goat chow, the kids quickly learn to jump up onto the milk stand for a treat. If you train them to voluntarily mount the milk stand while they are young, and they get used to having their feet handled, you are halfway home.
Some goats readily accept having their hind legs handled. Others tend to panic and kick if anything touches their back legs. Rather than force the issue, work around it. Start by doing something simple, like using a dusting brush to sweep the milk stand platform. When the goat is used to this activity, lightly brush up against its hind legs. When the goat stops flinching or kicking you touch its legs with the brush, touch each leg with your hand. After the goat learns to accept having its legs touched, lift a leg just clear of the milk stand platform. Hold the leg until the goat relaxes, then let go. Don’t let go while the goat is tense or trying to kick. You want to make sure the goat learns that you are the one who decides when to put the leg down.
Eventually, you will be able to lift the hoof high enough to get a good look at the bottom. The first few times, just pick debris from the hoof without attempting to trim it. If you sense the goat is about to start fidgeting, stop and try again another day. Eventually, the goat will readily accept having its hooves trimmed. With some goats, acceptance doesn’t take long, but others require lots of time and patience.
Trying to trim the hooves of a grown goat that has rarely, or never, been trimmed can be a challenge. When a goat is really wild and not at all used to being handled, for safety’s sake begin by lightly touching its legs with a broom or long stick, which will give you some distance in event of a dangerous kick. Once it learns to accept having its legs touched from a distance, proceed as you would with a young goat with this exception: a hoof that’s in really bad shape usually needs several sessions to get right. Don’t try to do it all at once.
When a doe is used to being milked, but not having her hooves trimmed, you can usually work out the kinks by putting your hand on her udder (which she is used to), and then gradually move your hand to the top of her leg and slowly slide it down toward the hoof. This maneuver may go quickly or may take a couple of days until the goat understands what’s coming and doesn’t feel threatened.
Even between trims, occasionally touching or rubbing a goat’s legs, or lifting the feet, as a regular part of your maintenance routine keeps both you and the goat in practice. Stay calm and cool and never attempt to trim hooves if you’re feeling out of sorts.
A goat’s hooves are made of the same material as your fingernails. Like fingernails, hooves grow uncomfortably long if they aren’t regularly trimmed.
Wild goats live in rocky areas, where their hooves get worn down as they travel and browse. Some goat keepers try to imitate this habitat by creating an area of rocks and concrete platforms where their goats can play.
When a goat spends all its time in a barn or on a grassy pasture, its hooves just keep growing. After a while the goat can’t walk properly and, if the hooves go untrimmed, the goat can become permanently crippled.
How fast a goat’s hooves grow and need to be trimmed varies not only with habitat but also from goat to goat. Some goats’ hooves need trimming every two weeks. Some grow more slowly and may need to be trimmed no more often than every two or three months. The easiest time to trim is after hooves have been softened by grass dampened from rain or dew.
A goat’s four hooves don’t necessarily all grow at the same rate, and back hooves tend to grow faster than the fronts. A good practice is to check all hooves at least once a month, pick out debris, and tidy up ragged edges. Doing so keeps the goat’s hooves healthy and ensures that the job doesn’t become a chore dreaded by both you and the goat. By trimming often, you are also likely never to see goat hoof problems such as hoof rot (a contagious bacterial infection) or hoof wall separation (separation of the hoof wall from the sole).
When a hoof is overdue for trimming, the outside wall curls under, trapping mud, manure, and moisture, which can lead to infection and lameness. When you finish trimming, the bottom of the hoof should be level and parallel to the growth rings. The two toes should be the same length. To learn what a properly trimmed hoof looks like, study a newborn kid’s feet. The kid’s hooves are flat on the bottom and have a boxy look.
Goat Hoof Trimming Procedure
Do you have any tips for successful goat hoof trimming? Let us know and join in the conversation below.