An overgrown hoof can cause pain and difficulty walking, and can even affect the joints of the animal. Hooves that have flaps can collect small stones (imagine a stone in your shoe), or mud and wetness which sometimes can lead to organisms growing, the worst case of which is hoof rot.
The frequency of trimming depends on the rate of growth and the type of substrate the animal walks on daily. Animals who have rocks to climb on, cement or gravel floors in the barn or outside the doorways to the barn often will wear down their hooves naturally. Some flocks may have half a dozen animals who need trims, and the rest who do not. So hoof growth is particular to each animal.
On alpacas or llamas you want to look for toenails curving out to the side, or growing so long that the curve of the front toenail looks like it’s lifting up the pad of the foot itself. In general, I encourage people to check toenails on their camelids at least every 3 months.
On sheep and goats, it’s sometimes hard to tell if hooves need trimming unless you actually pick up the foot and look at it. If you notice that it is long, it has probably become quite bad. Some sheep breeds (the English wool breeds, Tunis, and the finewool breeds) tend to grow their hooves more quickly. The more primitive breeds (Shetland, Icelandic, Jacob) often need little intervention. Angora goats are notorious for having bad hooves, as are Boer goats. Again, I recommend checking at least every 3 months. You can avoid bigger problems, by just doing a quick spot check.
I offer regular hoof and toenail trims to my clients; it’s best to get on a schedule, just as you would with a farrier for your horse. If you wish, I will also train you how to do your own animals’ hooves. Make a service request
There are a few type of hoof trimmers you will find at your local stores – most of them area honestly not that great. There are the orange handled ones, the dark green handled ones, and the light green handled ones. Then there are the bigger metal ones called “hoof rot shears”. Don’t bother. The best hoof trimmers I’ve ever used are the ARS red handled ones. The steel is good quality and the angle of the handle is just right. They run about $35. I trim thousands of hooves and toenails a year and only need to sharpen them perhaps once every other year.
If you want to spend a bit of money because you have animals with “problem hooves” – hooves that crack or split, for example, I recommend the Hoof Boss. It doesn’t replace a good set of trimmers, but it can help smooth out edges, especially on the inside of hooves that are hard to get at with trimmers. They run about $270. Because I do so many hooves a year, and I also have a few Boer goats with problem hooves, I’ve found it to be an invaluable tool.
If you have a lush pasture, or a muddy entryway to your barn, or just a lot of soft ground, your animals’ hooves are going to grow and not get worn down and will need more maintenance. I have stone dust outside my barn entrances and in my driveway (where the animals walk all the time) and this tends to help wear down hooves naturally. Stone dust is wonderful for minimizing mud problems in high-trafficked area. I’ve also seen folks put just regular pavers (that you can buy at any hardware store) outside the entrances of their barns so the animals have to walk over them daily. Most importantly, provide dry areas for your animals to hang out in. Keep barns clean and swept or with dry, regularly changed bedding – you’ll be amazed at the difference!