Considering its economic value, you might think the fleece of a sheep is the only part to be cared for. But you will find that caring for other body parts, like the hooves, is pretty vital to the health of your sheep.
New to sheep rearing, and you do not know enough about caring for sheep hooves? Don’t fret; we’ve got your back. In this article, we discuss some facts about sheep hooves. After that, we describe how to care for them.
5 Facts About Sheep Hooves
Sheep Hooves Are Made of Keratin
Sheep hooves are made of keratin. Keratin is the same protein the skin, nails, hair, and other skin appendages are made of. Unsurprisingly, sheep hooves have similar characteristics to those appendages.
For one, sheep hooves grow like nails, feathers, hair, and wool. In the same way those appendages must be trimmed, you must also trim sheep hooves routinely.
Sheep Hooves Are Cloven
Sheep have cloven hooves. In other words, sheep hooves are cleaved into two digits. This is why they may also be referred to as even-toed hoofed animals.
The cloven hooves of sheep are different from the single-digit hooves seen in animals like horses and zebras. Of course, since horses and zebras have single hooves, they are classified as odd-toed hoofed animals.
The Quality of the Hooves of a Sheep Are Affected by Nutrition
As in other hoofed animals, the quality and growth of sheep hooves are dependent on nutrition. Deficiency in nutrients such as zinc, biotin, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E can lead to the growth of weaker hooves.
Contrarily, if sheep get a load of these nutrients, they will grow strong hooves.
Sheep Hooves Must Be Maintained Routinely
As we mentioned earlier, hooves grow just like nails, hair, and other skin appendages. Just like we trim our fingernails and shave our hair, we must maintain sheep hooves regularly.
Sheep living in the wild trim/wear their hooves naturally while walking, grazing, or running. So, they do not really need maintenance routines.
Domestic sheep, on the other hand, must be maintained routinely. This holds true because domestic sheep are not as active as sheep in the wild.
Generally, it is recommended that you trim the hooves of your sheep every 6 to 10 weeks. But you may need to cut them more frequently if the sheep is old or not very active.
Also, if the sheep live on relatively wet land, their hooves should be trimmed more often.
On the other hand, if the sheep live on dry or rocky soil, trimming could be less frequent. The stiff texture of the ground will wear the hooves, so they don’t grow very fast.
Foot Rot Is the Main Disease Affecting Sheep Hooves
Many diseases affect sheep hooves when they are not well maintained. But of the many possible conditions, foot rot appears to be the most common one.
Foot rot also occurs in cattle and horses. However, the causative bacteria in sheep differ from that of cattle and horses.
Foot rot in sheep is caused by the anaerobic bacteria called Bacteroides nodusus. Some symptoms of foot rot in sheep include swollen hooves, foul discharge, and hoof tissue reddening.
How to Care for Sheep Hooves
Things to Note
- Schedule the trimming sessions of your sheep’s hooves after the cold season. Exposure to long periods of extreme cold toughens sheep hooves and makes them harder to trim.
- It is preferable to trim the hooves of your sheep after a day in a wet pasture; they will be relatively softer.
- You may want to avoid hoof trimming in hot weather, late gestation, or other times when the sheep may be stressed.
- Only use sharp trimmers. Dull hoof trimmers make the trimming process unnecessarily arduous.
Materials Needed for Hoof Trimming
To trim the hooves of a sheep, you need the following:
- Hoof Shear/Trimmer
- A pair of gloves (not required, but helpful)
- A means of restraint like a sheep chair, sheep stand, rope halter, or tilt/turn table. In place of these holding devices, you may get someone else to restrain the sheep while you trim their hooves.
Trimming the Hooves
You may trim the hooves of sheep while they stand, lay down, or sit. But shearing in the laying or sitting position can make the process faster because you can trim multiple hooves without repositioning the sheep.
- Once the sheep is calm and in position, firmly hold its leg with one hand.
- Inspect the hoof for mud, stones, dirt, and signs of diseases.
- Clean out all the dirt you find on the hoof.
- Once you are done cleaning, you may start trimming.
- When trimming, do not cut off large portions of the hoof at once. If you do, you risk clipping the blood supply.
- Start the trimming process by cutting off excess growth on the outside of the hoof. As the color becomes lighter, or when you approach pink areas, stop shearing.
- Next, trim off excess growth along the back of the hoof. Then as the color becomes lighter or pink, stop trimming.
- Next, repeat the same trimming process for the inside of the hoof.
- Next, shave off the tip of the hoof until it is flush and smooth. But as with the other parts, do not over-shear. Stop shearing when the color becomes lighter or when you have trimmed all excess growth.
- Repeat all trimming processes on the other digit of the hoof.
Diseases Affecting Sheep Hoof
When not properly maintained, sheep may suffer from the following hoof diseases:
- Foot rot
- Blue tongue
- Foot and mouth disease
One common endpoint of the stated diseases is lameness.
How to Prevent Hoof Diseases in Sheep
To avoid hoof diseases in sheep, do the following:
- Never buy a sheep from a flock with confirmed cases of hoof diseases, even if the animal is asymptomatic.
- For any new sheep you buy, trim and treat their hooves first. Then quarantine the new sheep from your old flock for at least 1 month.
- If your sheep has just returned from a journey where it encountered other animals, treat its hooves.
- Do not let manure accumulate around the sheep as it will only harbor disease-causing microorganisms.
- Do not let your sheep spend time in wet pastures.
- You may wash their hooves with zinc sulfate or copper sulfate – these foot baths keep the causative organisms from growing.
- Always clean your hoof trimming materials as you trim from one animal to another.