As the saying goes, ‘Prevention is better than the cure’!
When most people think about foot care they think about hoof trimming, and this is the main means of taking care of sheep feet, but there are other things you can do to improve their feet besides regular trimming.
Keeping growing hooves under control
Trim your sheep’s feet regularly and you will greatly minimize any future problems and lameness. A sheep’s hooves will need to be trimmed approx 2-6 times a year. Hoof growth depends on a variety of factors, such as breed, terrain, weather/field conditions & indoor housing. Keep an eye on your sheep’s feet and trim accordingly. More info on trimming below!
Wild sheep are mainly found living in rocky mountainous areas. They don’t need their feet trimming as don’t spend their lives on lush green, boggy or poached fields. These do nothing to wear down the hoof. But you can help, if you have a concreted, tarmacked, gravely, or rocky area you can give your sheep access to then do! Feed them on it and they will wear down their hooves more naturally. You will probably still need to trim but hopefully not as often!
Many commercially farmed sheep fall into this category. It is time consuming to trim hooves, especially if you have hundreds or thousands of sheep! They may get done once a year if lucky when they are sheared. So people turn to foot baths and vaccines like ‘Footvax’. These don’t keep hoof growth in check but they reduce lameness by targeting bacteria that live in pockets of muck and debris in an overgrown or infected hoof.
There are many useful videos, photos and information on the sheep hoof and how go about trimming it online. Or if you are lucky enough to know someone with sheep ask them for a demo and advice! If you are buying sheep or lambs from us here at Patchwork Sheep we are always happy to offer a quick demo when you come to collect them or advice via email. In the future we plan to feature on this page a more in depth guide with photos, images and videos on how to trim a hoof.
The main part of the hoof that you trim is the hoof wall and also the sole where necessary. Hoof trimming isn’t difficult and with a bit of practice you will get very competent and quick at it.
A good pair of sheep or lamb foot shears. These are readily available online or in agricultural merchants. You would expect to pay around £20 for a pair. They are worth investing in as they make life a lot easier and will last you a long time. Failing that you can use scissors but they will need to be pointed tips, sharp and strong to do the job! Other optional’s you may need are: a sheep halter, deck chair, raised platform, expensive turnover crate and a strong man if you have one!
Turning over a sheep or trimming their hooves whilst standing can be back breaking work. You can make it kinder on your back by having your sheep stand tied on a raised surface so you aren’t bending to trim their feet, or my personal favourite, the humble deck chair! Walking them back into a deck chair and having them sit restricts their movement and gives you great elevates access to a sheep’s hooves! Their are expensive sheep turnover crates you can bag for £500+ or you can get your sheep a wooden deck chair for £30 and make life easier for you both!
Weather conditions and housing greatly affect the softness of the hoof, and so affect how easy it is to trim. Dry hooves are incredibly tough and hard to trim and require a lot more effort. Where as hooves on a sheep who has been outside on damp ground are much softer and easier to do. It is easier to see any pockets of mud on a wet hoof and much easier to trim. So plan trimming after a wet spell if you can and be prepared for a challenge if your sheep have been housed indoors!
The sheep deck chair
I recently discovered how using a simple, slightly modified deck chair, could make trimming feet a whole lot easier! I’m not a big strong person, so turning sheep over and keeping them sitting is not easy for me, the sheep are not comfortable and they struggle. I did away with this accepted method years ago and started either tying my sheep and trimming as a farrier would a horse or having my husband hold them standing if they wouldn’t tie. This is back breaking work if you have doing 30+ sheep, that = 120+ hooves to trim! One option is to have them walk up on a raised platform but this can be tricky persuading them up and keeping them still, some will tolerate, some not. And then I saw a picture online, of a sheep having its feet trimmed in a modified deck chair, gave it a go ourselves and will never look back! It may look funny but I assure you it works and it causes no distress to the sheep, in fact they don’t struggle at all and seem pretty comfy, trimming is quicker as you can see and reach the feet better and overall it puts much less stress on the sheep and you than other methods.
Get yourself a standard wooden frame deck chair and depending on how docile or small you sheep is you may want to fasten some woven bird/pond netting over the chair fabric to prevent sheep slipping out of the gaps at the side. We also use a strap to hold the sheep’s head and upper body in place and have a halter on the just in case. Fasten the deck chair back to a secure object like a gate so it can’t tip or move.
Get you sheep and walk them back to the chair. You may want to have a helper with you to make life easier. With the chair right behind the sheep’s bum & back legs gently push them back, up and over into the chair so the are in a reclined seating position. Make sure the deck chair is reclined well back as if it is too upright the sheep may not feel secure and try to rock out of the chair. If you have a strap you can gently secure the sheep’s upper body back to the chair so it doesn’t slip to the side or forwards, or you can have your helper hold them in place. And away you go trimming!