My last three weeks were spent working with sheep and goats. The block is only offered once a year so I was completely ecstatic when I found out I had somehow gotten it. None of my friends nor I really knew what we were getting ourselves into, but we learned really quickly. The major thing that we did was trim small ruminant hooves. On most days we did around 100 animals as a group and many of our trips were primarily for foot trimming.
Our first big trimming day was on one of the state of Virginia prison goat farms. They had around 140 pregnant females that were about to deliver and were in desperate need of trimming. Because they were in late pregnancy we couldn’t flip them. But thankfully they had horns, which as we came to learn really make good handles. Most of the hooves were overgrown but were quickly taken care of with a few snips from our trimmers. Essentially what we did was remove overgrowth, round off the toes and make the bottom of the hoof parallel to the top of the hoof.
Sheep feet in comparison are a completely different ballgame. Rams, in particular, have hooves harder than steel. We went to one farm that was also shearing at the same time. Unlike the goats, these sheep didn’t have horns. So we had to flip them by turning their heads toward their backs, pulling up on their abdominal flank, grabbing the feet and putting them into a recliner-like position. These hooves were extremely tough, and it was incredibly difficult to remove excess material. Some were so tough that we had to use large nippers. After a full day working those animals my right forearm and hand was aching. Many of these sheep were huge and didn’t take to well to being in that reclined position, so we all left with bruised legs and forearms due to flailing legs.
While some members of our group grew tired of hoof trimming by the end of the three weeks, I really enjoyed it. I have spent some time on an angora goat farm in the past and had done plenty of trimming so it was sort of a throwback to my time there. It’s also something I’m pretty good and it’s pretty easy. It’s not a skill that most veterinarians end up using often, but when I run into a small ruminant person in need I know that I will be the guy to help them.