Yes, your animals also need pedicure to thrive

05th Jul, 2020

Dear daktari,

I am a livestock farmer with a bias for small ruminants – sheep and goats. I like them because they mature fast and are easy animals unlike cows. I have also realised they are hardy and hardly get sick. However, lately I have noted some lameness especially in those that I keep under confinement. I confine those about to give birth and thereafter take care of the kids before I release them to roam in the three-acre farm. Recently, when I examined them closely, I realised the hooves were long and curled and it seems to be the likely cause of the lameness. This has happened in three of the four in confinement. Could there be anything I am not doing right? [Makotsi, Trans Nzoia County]

Thank you Mr Makotsi for reaching out to us. While you might be doing the right thing; you could be predisposing your shoats to hoof overgrowth. Though confinement is good for those about to kid and for the kids before it grows to a stage where it can freely and securely move around in the field, it can also result in hoof overgrowth.

Diet is a factor

All hoofed domestic animals may have an overgrowth of their hooves and this requires trimming to be carried. There are a number of causes for this problem. One cause is high protein and carbohydrate diets which also cause inflammation of the hoof - laminitis.

The terrain on the environment is another factor; soft grounds or confinement predisposes animals to hoof overgrowth due to inactivity. Rough or rocky surfaces naturally encourages wearing and in a way “trimming” the hooves. Damp and muddy environments also trigger hoof problems like overgrowth and curling. The other factor is genetic predispositions.  

Why you need to trim hoofs?

Overgrown hooves result in lameness and as such the animal will have limited movement because of the pain in the feet and leg. Limited movement means the animal will not each much and this affect its weight. Males may refuse to mate especially when hind legs are affected. If not treated the problem will advance to involve joints and tendons, which will predispose to other conditions like abscesses.

Keeping the hooves trimmed reduces chances of infectious foot conditions such as foot rot.

So how is TRIMMING done? 

Hoof trimming is simple and can be done by the farmer. It can be done using hoof trimmers, foot shears or a rasp file. Pocket knives and hoof knives require careful handling to avoid injuries to the animal.  Dry conditions make it hard to trim, they can be softened by allowing the shoats to stand in a wet area or a footbath for 2 to 3 hours before trimming to make process easier.

Remove any dirt from the space between the hooves and around the hoof for clear visualisation when trimming. Trimming should be done by cutting the overgrown horn (hoof) back to the required plane. The lower hoof (sole) should be in line with the hairline above the hoof. Trim off the bites slowly and observe for any bleeding. Bleeding is an indicator that you are past the sole which should be trimmed. Remember improper trimming can worsen the problem by causing lameness due to injury to the surrounding soft tissues.

The goal of trimming is to remove the outside wall of the hoof and to flatten it so the outside and inside walls are level and there is no debris trapped against the sole of the foot.  The sheep or goat should stand with his sole flat on the ground when trimming is done properly. 

To avoid angry protests from the animal, during trimming, it should be properly restrained. Sheep should be laid on their side as if shearing and goats should be trimmed in standing position, the head tied and probably pushed against a wall. 

As a preventive strategy, provide hard surfaces within the shades and allow shoats to walk round frequently. Feed the shoats on a balanced diet with adequate mineral supplementation.

-The writer is the Vet of the Year Award winner 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council.

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