Like goats, cows, and many other animals on farms, sheep also require regular hoof trimming. If left uncared, overgrown sheep hooves may affect the sheep’s ability to walk. More importantly, the sheep will be more likely to expose many hoof diseases.
This article is written to provide all information related to sheep hooves. From the anatomy, common diseases, hoof trimming, and caring tips for this bovine animal.
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Sheep hoof anatomy
What kind of hooves do sheep have? Cloven or Split hoof?
All sheep have hooves that are split into 2 toes, which are also called cloven or split hooves. Other farm animals like cattle, goats, and pigs also have this type of hoof, except for horses.
How many parts in a sheep hoof?
Sheep have 2 toes on each of their feet. They are flat on the ground to help them stand and move. All the hooves look square to the sheep’s body. The line between the two toes (also known as the hoof axis or heel depth) is very important to a healthy foot.
At the bottom of each toe is the soft sole horn. It is not too thick, only 2-3 in millimeters. It is very vulnerable, especially when being exposed to sharp objects or surfaces.
To support the sheep’s weight and protect the sole horn, a layer called “wall horn” wraps around the toes. Overgrown wall horns can affect the walking ability of the sheep. Regular trimming is necessary to keep the sheep healthy and avoid diseases like Foot Rot or Foot Scald.
What do healthy sheep hooves look like?
A healthy sheep hoof has the “wall horn” well-connected with the “sole horn”. No smell, no heat, and no separated horn. You can also look at the inner skin between the 2 toes. If it is pink and dry, with a thin layer of hairs, it is normally healthy.
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Sheep hoof problems
Hoof disease can badly affect your herd. To maintain the herd’s health and productivity, understanding common diseases is of importance. Here are some of the common hoof problems in sheep.
#1 Foot Rot
Foot Rot is caused by 2 anaerobic bacteria: F. Necrophorum and B. Nodusus. The former lives in soil and manure, the latter is in infected animals. The B. Nodusus can stay in the soil for up to 21 days.
The best condition for both of these footrot bacteria to live and spread is warmth (40-70F), moist, muddy, unsanitary environment.
A healthy sheep will be infected once in contact with the bacteria. This contact might be straight from an infected animal, contaminated ground, bedding, or vehicle.
The bacteria causing footrot are anaerobic. In plainer words, they can only survive in places that lack oxygen. Hence, exposing them to the air is one simple way to eliminate them.
Effective treatment methods lie in how you take care of the herd. Proper and regular trimming will reduce mud and manure sticking in the hoof line, inherently reduce the chance of footrot.
Another economical way is to place a footbath of zinc sulfate in the pen for your sheep to walk through it daily. Many other farmers also use antibiotic injections or sprays to control this disease.
If left untreated, an infected sheep can spread the disease to the rest of its herd. Therefore, footrot treatment must be carried out on the whole herd or even the whole cattle.
For any sheep showing no response to the treatment, immediately separate it before spreading the bacteria to the others.
As B. Nodusus bacteria is introduced to your farm from an infected animal, it is best to quarantine any newly bought sheep for at least 30 days. During that time, trim their feet and inspect for footrot.
1. Is there a vaccine for Foot Rot in sheep?
You can inject the sheep with a vaccine to prevent footrot. But vaccination can’t protect your animal from all variants of footrot. The best and only prevention of this disease is providing good care for your herd.
2. Can foot rot kill sheep?
Footrot won’t kill the sheep but will affect the production of the herd. From a farmer’s standpoint, it isn’t a good sign for the business to last.
#2 Foot Scald (early stage of Foot Rot)
Causes & Symptoms
Compared to footrot, foot scald is less severe and easier to be cured. It is caused by the F. Necrophorum alone.
Symptoms of foot scald are lameness, red or swollen inner skin between the two toes. If your sheep feet, especially the front ones, have lesions or are blanched and white, chances are they have caught foot scald.
Unlike footrot, foot scald is not contagious. The treatment for this is simple. Remove your sheep from the wet, muddy ground to let the hooves dry. This is why foot scald tends to decline during dry seasons.
You can also make the same footbath used for footrot to treat foot scald.
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#3 Foot Abscess
Causes & Symptoms
Foot abscess happens when the soft tissues above the hoof are swollen. More advanced cases can have draining abscesses at this area and between the toes.
Bacteria from damaged foot tissue can spread to the other vulnerable parts of the foot. The front ones are the most common hooves to be affected. Foot abscess often happens with one hoof at a time and is more c.
The rule of thumb when dealing with foot abscesses is avoiding wet and muddy areas. You have to move the sheep to a drier place.
The abscess needs to be drained by trimming or paring the hoof. Then, clean the infected parts before applying an anti-bacterial compound.
Once the sheep get infected, remember to treat them as early as possible. The treatment might be long-acting before the animals can recover. For better results, sometimes broad-spectrum antibiotics are needed. Always ask your vet for consultancy.
Fat, heavy sheep, especially twin-bearing ewes, have a higher chance of foot abscess.
#4 Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)
Causes & Symptoms
This contagious disease has affected many farm animals, including pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, and deer. Affected animals may show symptoms like blisters on lips, nose, gums, tongue, and the top of their feet. Compared to cattle, FMD in sheep may be harder to visualize.
FMD is believed to be completely eradicated in the US and Canada in 1929. No case of FMD in sheep has been found in the US since then. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has just experienced an outbreak of this disease in 2001.
Up to now, there is no specific treatment for Foot and Mouth Disease. Sheep infected with FMD will be used antibiotic therapy to control secondary infection of the ulcers.
As it is a no-cure disease, infected areas must be quarantined and disinfected as soon as possible.
Causes & Symptoms
Blisters on the skin of the hoof wall and especially on the mouth or somewhere around the sheep body are the typical symptom of a sore mouth. This disease, according to its name, is more infectious near the mouth of the sheep.
SoreMouth can be treated with a broad spectrum of antibiotics. Vaccination and good biosecurity are both recommended ways to help prevent this disease.
Trimming sheep hooves
Do sheep hooves need trimming?
Overgrown hoof in sheep will not only cause difficulties in walking but also results in dangerous infections like Foot Rot or Foot Scald. These infections are likely as Cow hooves. Therefore, regular trimming helps the sheep have an even surface to walk on, free from bacteria, and comfortable, healthy hooves.
When should you trim sheep hooves?
If you find signs of the hoof walls overgrowing the toe, or your sheep being reluctant to walk, it is the right time for trimming.
If left to grow naturally and uncared, the wall horn will eventually curl over onto the soft sole thorn. It can also grow on the heel, forming an uneven foot, which will surely affect the walking of your sheep.
As a result, trimming sheep hooves mainly happens on the wall horn – the outer part of the toes.
What sheep hoof trimming equipment is needed?
To trim the goat hoof or sheep hoof , you need to have a set of hoof trimmers, better with different sizes. Many farmers don’t hesitate to equip themselves with a hoof pick to better clean dirt and debris sticking inside the hooves. If you are dealing with footrot, we highly recommend you have a hoof pick.
How to trim sheep hooves?
Clean the hooves first
You should start the trimming process by cleaning the hooves. Use a proper tool, a hoof pick if you have, to clean off all the dirt, manure, or small stones between the two toes, inside and around the hoof walls.
If you find smelly hooves while trimming, it is a firm indication of footrot, which should be treated properly.
Start trimming from heel to toe
After you have well cleaned the hoof, hold the leg tightly and begin trimming. Start around the hoof perimeter, from the heel to the toe. Cut all the excess hoof walls that grow over the sole horn.
Go slowly and try to avoid cutting large pieces of the hoof. The hooves will be much easier to trim after being soaked from rain or snow.
Don’t trim into the blood vein
While trimming, it is important to not go too deep into the blood vein. If you see a pink area appear after a cut, stop there and don’t go further into it.
Incorrect trimming will result in poor foot balance and lameness in your sheep. You certainly don’t want that.
How often do sheep need their hooves trimmed?
How often you should trim the sheep hooves depends on many factors. Sheep that live on rocky, mountain areas may need less trimming because their hooves have been naturally worn down by the rough area. Meanwhile, sheep raised on farms or in wet places will have their hooves grow faster.
So, you have to pay close attention to your sheep’s feet if the sheep hooves grow back longer than the inside sole horn. The frequency for your trimming routines can be anywhere from twice a year to more.
One thing you should not overdo is overzealous trimming, or cutting too deep into the pink part of the hoof. This will expose the blood vessel of your sheep to infection, especially foot abscess.
Caring sheep hooves
Only trim as necessary
Since the wall horn grows at a considerably slower rate, around 5mm a month, and still depends on the living area and many other factors, it is best to keep the trimming routine to a minimum.
Keep it hygienic
It is also highly advisable to clean the trimming tool after each sheep and keep the trimming area clean. This helps minimize the risk that the bacteria will spread to the herd.
Footbathing is effective to prevent footrot, although it isn’t the main treatment. A routine of 5 times a year is a good guideline for keeping your sheep’s feet healthy. If the sheep are having problems, footbath them once a week.
Trimming the sheep hooves on a good frequency every year is a way to keep the herd healthy. We hope you have something to take away from our post. Share with us your concern if you have. Happy farming!