Happy hooves: What does proper hoof care look like for your livestock?

Share to:


February is International Hoof Care Month – and that’s always a timely discussion for any livestock owners.

Hoof care and maintenance is a vital part of owning and working with any breed of hoved livestock; improper or absent care can set off a domino effect that causes poor health, improper nutrition and a litany of other issues. With that said, the specifics of a trimming/shoeing schedule can vary wildly by animal/breed and can be affected by many different environmental factors.

In this fact sheet from Purdue University, authors Kate Hepworth, Dr. Michael Neary [extension animal scientist, Purdue] and Dr. Simon Kenyon [extension veterinarian, Purdue] argue that the starting point in engaging with hoof care always has to be the anatomy of the animal. Hooved livestock includes cattle, horses, sheep, goats and pigs. The authors round out a scientifically-detailed evaluation of the anatomy of the hoof with this conclusion: “After the anatomy of the hoof is understood, it is much easier to comprehend how certain lamenesses occur, how to prevent them, and how and why one should keep feet in good, working condition. As many veterinarians and livestock producers will note, a well-maintained routine of cleaning and trimming animals’ feet will lead to a far lower incidence of discomfort and lameness in the animals.”

Regardless of breed, most animals need to be trimmed at least twice annually – though some herdsmen choose to do so more frequently. Horses’ hooves will need attention more frequently. A lot will hinge on the ground/space your animals occupy; for instance “…animals that are kept in pasture are less likely to develop painful foot problems than those living on hard cement.” Certain environments are more likely to stimulate overgrowth than others.

Environment is a big factor – “Strive to keep them (your animals’ feet) dry! Bacteria thrive in wet conditions and most hoof problems can be easily avoided and managed by keeping your animal’s feet dry (What Do You Mean, “No Feet, No Meat”? | Extension (unh.edu)).” Some of those nasty bacteria can cause different conditions like foot rot – and that’s not something you want to introduce into your herd.

Nutrition is also a significant contributing factor. This fact sheet from the University of Wisconsin deals specifically with dairy cattle, discussing some of the research that shows bacteria growth as a result of certain feeding practices – and how those bacteria and the inflammation and acidosis they can cause can travel throughout the body, with varying degrees of consequence. Several minerals and supplements are key to maintaining hoof health and can be introduced into your feeding regimen: zinc, copper, selenium (though there is not much data on selenium) and the vitamin Biotin. Nutritional needs will vary by animal, but there is a proven correlation between diet and the structural integrity and health of the animal’s hooves.

Below are specific resources by animal:

“Proper goat hoof care” – MSU Extension

“Hoof care: Treatment and prevention” – OSU Extension, Sheep Team

“Hoof trimming of dairy cows” – University of Kentucky

“Proper basic hoof care” – Utah University – Equine Extension

A directory of hoof trimmers exists through the Hoof Trimmers Association (and similar contact lists exist through other organizations as well.) You can also make a connection with a hoof trimmer through a peer, your veterinary practice or similar industry professionals.

by Andy Haman

Recent Posts:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *