How often should I trim the hooves of my sheep/goats?


As often as they need it. The need for hoof trimming varies by farm or ranch. It is affected by climate, terrain, housing, nutrition, and genetics. Some producers trim hooves every few months; some, never. Once a year is probably most common.

Proper hoof trimming prevents diseases and improves the welfare of sheep/goats. Overgrown hooves are one of the primary reasons sheep/goat owners are reported to animal welfare authories. At the same time, overzealous hoof trimming is advised against, too, as it may promote growth and spread disease.

Goat hooves tend to grow more than sheep hooves. Sheep/goats in high rainfall areas usually need their hooves trimmed more frequently than those that are maintained on rocky, dry soil. Sheep/goats that are housed usually need their hooves trimmed more often than pastured animals. Animals on a higher plane of nutrition usually require more frequent hoof trimming. Despite farmer belief, there is no proof that dark colored hooves require less trimming than white hooves or are less disease prone.

You need the right equipment to properly trim sheep/goat hooves. There are various paring shears designed for this purpose. A knife can also be used for hoof trimming. In fact, a sharp knife is needed to remove pockets and do a more thorough job of hoof trimming. They make special hoof knifes for trimming sheep/goat hooves.

Restraint is important aspect of hoof trimming. Hoof trimming can be back-breaking work, especially if each animal has to be tipped onto its rump. Goats don’t sit so well on their rumps. Tilt or turn tables (or cradles) can be used to secure sheep/goats for hoof trimming. They hold the animal upside down or on its side. A deck chair is another option. Some animals will permit their feet to be lifted for hoof trimming while they are on a stand or platform or standing beside a gate.

Hooves should not be trimmed when ewes/does are heavily pregnant or the weather is too hot. It is easier to trim hooves that are soft from rain or heavy dew. Trimming hooves in the winter can be next to impossible. Hoof trimming is often combined with other tasks, such as shearing. Any sheep/goat with diseased hooves or abnormal or excessive hoof growth should be culled.

Foot rot
You want to avoid foot rot like the plague. Foot rot is a disease of the hoof. It is not caused by insufficient hoof trimming. It is introduced via a bacteria (Dichelobacter nodusus). The bacteria usually walks onto the farm on four legs. Foot rot is highly contagious. Once the disease has established itself, it can be difficult to eradicate. Hoof trimming can aid in controlling and eradicating foot rot. In fact, diseased hooves need to be trimmed thoroughly.

There are numerous strategies for dealing with foot rot. One strategy is to use hoof trimming and zinc sulfate foot baths. It's important to separate clean animals from infected animals. Another strategy is to use antibiotics to get rid of the disease. European studies show Zactran® (Gamithromycin) to be a good choice of antibiotic. Penicillin and oxytetracycline (LA-200®) have also been used to treat foot rot. All are extra label uses. Zactran® is prescription. Soon all antibiotics will require a veterinary prescription. Unfortunately, the vaccine for foot rot is not readily available (in the US).

Topical treatments are another option: zinc sulfate sprays, Koppertox (copper sulfate), and Tea Tree oil. It is important to disinfect hoof trimmers and knives between animals. Culling is the most powerful tool against foot rot. Any animal which does not respond to treatment should be culled. Strict biosecurity is the best protection against foot rot. The hooves of newly purchased animals should be inspected. It's not a bad idea to have them stand in a foot bath. They should be kept in quarantine for two weeks or longer.


Additional reading

Tactics to win the battle against foot rot - Michigan State University
Sheep Foot Health - University of Maine