Just as with other hooved creatures, goat hooves grow continuously throughout their lifetime. Due to a multitude of factors, including but not limited to nutrition, genetics, and environment, some goats naturally retain better hoof health than others. Just as humans with poor posture experience aches and pains, goats that do not have proper hoof angles and maintenance can experience a decrease in their overall wellbeing. When their hooves are misshapen they can lose condition, experience decreased appetite, and even risk becoming unhealthy. We know from experience that the socks made from our goats’ lovely mohair help our feet feel amazing, we want to return the favor in ensuring our goats’ foot comfort, continued health and vitality. For these reasons, we as stewards of the farm must strive to maintain optimum health of our cloven hooved friends.
About a month ago, in early December, a group of dedicated handlers came together at the Glen Cauffman Farm to provide manicures and pedicures for the Angora goats that make up the Pure American Naturals herd. Among the group were farm owner Glen Cauffman, our favorite Holistic Veterinarian Dr. Judith Shoemaker, Herdsman Wyett Johnson, his lovely assistant Emily D, and yours truly. I have found over the course of nearly two decades of experience with these capricious creatures, there are almost as many ways to trim the hooves on a goat as there are goat enthusiasts in the world. From the tools used, to the method of restraint, the old adage about there being more than one way to accomplish a task certainly holds true to trimming goat hooves. As owner and herdsman to a small dairy herd, I train my does to jump up onto their milking stand twice a day for milking. This method enables me to comfortably examine them for body condition, coat condition, and overall health. Because they know they’ll get a little grain for cooperating, hoof trimming is generally a relaxed, pleasant experience with my small, mixed herd. On a larger scale operation, such as the Pure American Naturals herd of over 150 Angora goats; visually inspecting and manually trimming hooves requires a slightly different tactic. Here, we use a mechanical device which safely and securely lifts and flips each goat into a cradle so that they may have their hooves trimmed in a calm, relaxed manner. This device, which was specifically designed for the safety and wellbeing of sheep and goats, also ensures that the handlers involved with hoof trimming aren’t sporting aching backs at the end of the day.
Once in position, each hoof is visually inspected to determine how much overgrowth may need to be removed. The goats here typically only require quarterly hoof trimmings, though some do receive more frequent maintenance. Hoof trimming for the entire herd is usually broken up over a series of days, allowing the handlers to work at a comfortable pace and avoiding over exertion. A full grown Angora buck (male) can weigh in the neighborhood of 200 pounds, does (females) tend to range between 80 to 150 pounds, depending on stage of life. Using the hi-roller apparatus for all but the largest bucks allows the handlers to easily restrain each goat, without fear of back strains or danger to the animal.
The actual trimming process is completed with specialized hoof trimming shears, which are carefully maintained to ensure a sharp edge. This in turn ensures each trim is done quickly and with minimal trauma to the goat or handler. Dull blades can lead to improper hoof angle due to irregular cuts, strained hand and wrist from struggling to trim the hard hoof material, and overall undue stress to the handler and goat as dull blades slow the process. With the sharp shears in hand, the handlers carefully remove any debris from the hoof and trim excess growth to maintain proper hoof and leg angle (see images below). With practice and patience, we routinely trim roughly 50 goats in a single day, with little to no stress to our beloved Angoras or ourselves.
At the time of trimming, each goat is also checked for body condition, FAMACHA score, and weight. These factors all play a part in the maintenance and selection process of the herd; goats with chronic hoof issues, as well as those individuals with chronic immune defficiency, are considered for removal from the breeding herd as these concerns correlate to subpar mohair production and decreased reproductive vigor. The timing of hoof trimming and overall herd health checks is also carefully planned; the next trimming will be due prior to the time the does are due to start kidding. At that time, they will have been shorn of their winter locks and will be ready to be mothers and venture out into the spring pastures with their kids and begin growing their luxurious summer attire while teaching the newest members of the herd which forages are the most delicious.