I’m Pretty Jazzed About My Sheep’s Hooves!


I did some hoof trimming on the sheep yesterday, to see how things are looking after the sheep have been getting supplemental copper. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. They are looking SO good, the improvement and healing is profound! I should qualify, though, that there is more than one variable at play, so I can’t yet credit the copper supplement. Though I feel fairly sure that’s what it is.

Here’s a little timeline of relevant events:

7/24 & 8/21 – trimmed hooves, lots of hoof scald and rot, de-lamination. Some sheep ok, but most of them had some level of problem, and some were very bad. This was during a great, dry summer eating really high nutrient grass.
8/22 – started them on kelp supplement, free-choice, to see if it would help. Upon periodic inspection though, it did not seem to cause an improvement.
10/5 – started feeding dry COB for flushing (one variable)
10/10 – started offering them goat mineral with copper, free-choice, alongside their regular sheep mineral salt. They ate it like crazy!
10/22 – moved them to a pasture with mostly reed canary grass, off of a pasture of mixed grass and broadleaf species (another variable)
11/8 – another hoof trimming, a little too soon to tell results, but things were looking a lot better.
11/23 – started noticing the absence of lameness and sheep kneeling while grazing to take weight off their front feet
12/4 – another hoof trimming, almost zero trace of foot problems!

Wow, are these the same sheep? I swear, I think they all grew entirely new hooves in two months! First, I dug out some pictures I had of typical foot rot I’ve been fighting-the two pix at the top of this post. And these aren’t the worst I was seeing. See how those feet had curled-over sides, but also that the hoof wall was sort of peeling off, like a flaky pastry? Horse people talk about laminitis in horses, but in sheep people tend to lump hoof problems into “scald” and “rot” categories. But I have always thought this seems more like laminitis- the hoof wall completely dis-adhering from the rest of the foot, which then leaves room for mud, stones, and bacteria to get in there and cause trouble. And when you trim off that loosening hoof wall, which you must do to bring oxygen to heal the foot, all that’s left is tender, mushroom-like inner hoof tissue, which is really painful to walk on!

So check out this hoof I saw yesterday, which now has no pockets, holes, or de-lamination; and is rock-hard material. You can see some wrinkles in the hoof wall from healing action, just like how our fingernails get temporary wrinkles from an injury.


Here is a picture of one sheep’s hooves that were particularly bad before. Honestly, I think a maggot fell out of one of her toes when I was trimming them this summer, much to my horror! And this was not due to mismanagement or general ill-thrift- there was no mud, the weather was dry, I was trimming every eight weeks or so, medicating their feet, and the sheep were in good weight.

Now her feet look very, very good. There is still a small pocket of mud on the side, but when I trimmed that back, there was no de-lamination or tissue irritation, the “flap” of hoof tissue was just extra, and a new wall had grown underneath. Her toes are also still a little wide and fat, evidence of how much her hooves have been growing like “elf shoes” in a desperate attempt to overcome disease.

SpottedSheepsFeetThe sheep I bought in September reacted badly to my pasture as well, developing sore feet and lameness within weeks of being here. This below-pictured sheep was also experiencing crazy tissue growth in an attempt to overcome the problem (remember, I trimmed these on 11/8, and them came to me in good shape in September, so all this insane growth is recent):

NewSheepOvergrownFeet When I trimmed away all that excess material, there was a brand new, good-as-new hoof underneath, again with no open “seams,” irritation, or evidence of rot:


The most interesting thing was that most of the sheep had copper-colored edges to their hoof material, which I have not seen before. It’s a little hard to see in the photo, but it was quite striking on most of the sheep, in person. I wonder if this could be attributed to copper storing up in their tissues? Or if their bodies are actually accumulating copper in the hoof tissue to drive out bacterial disease? I don’t know! But I thought it was curious!

CopperColoredHoofTissue Anyway, I’m hugely pleased with the results; I can’t say how nice it is to see the sheep feeling good and having no hoof discomfort. Now I’m moving into feeding hay, and will soon be adding dry COB again for end-of-pregnancy support. So, it’ll be a while before I can eliminate enough variables to convince myself this is solely due to the copper supplement. But my gut tells me it is!

23 thoughts on “I’m Pretty Jazzed About My Sheep’s Hooves!

  1. Stephen says:


    Just a couple of thoughts from a Welsh shepherd. Please don’t take this in any other way than as a well meant suggestion but trimming every eight weeks is far too much! The pictures also suggest you are trimming a little too high up the sides of the hoof, so that the sheep is walking on the soles of her feet rather than mainly a rim of hoof wall horn. Trimming this high up can cause the hoof walls to separate from the sole causing pockets to form.

    Is the second to last picture taken of the hoofs directly after trimming them as they looked in the picture before it – or has some time past?

    Hwyl fawr


    • workingcollies says:

      Stephen, comments welcome. I think you are right about both things- trimming that often is not normally needed, or good. But I find that when the hoof is suffering that badly from rot, that it grows at an incredible rate (I assume because it is responding to disease and trying to heal), and in just a few weeks, has created a whole crazy “elf shoe” shape out to the side, which then invites more packing of rocks and dirt if it’s not removed. I would not have believed hooves could grow that fast if I hadn’t seen it, it’s truly bizarre.

      But, when the hooves are healthy, then I find that they grow more consistent with what other people experience, where trimming once or twice a year is plenty, and there is not nearly so much material to remove. When I trim, I try to make a flat surface on the bottom, so that the animal’s weight is evenly distributed over the whole sole and there is no “curling” of the hoof wall that would invite packing of dirt. But, when there are pockets, I’ll trim more aggressively until I open them up to air and get all the edges removed, even if that means going past what would normally be too far.

      In the 2nd to the last photo, it’s the same foot as in the photo above, immediately after trimming. This was a sheep that had grown “elf shoes” in just a few weeks, and the sides were packing with dirt, so I removed all that. These are another case where I trimmed further than I normally would, just to eliminate pockets and hoof wall material that was already detached.

      I find that healthy sheep feet are so much easier to trim, it’s more obvious where to trim, and it’s less likely to mess up. But, on feet with bad hoof rot, it seems like nothing you can do makes them right, you have to take off all the damaged and detached material, but then it leaves a poor, miserable tender foot behind. I was so pleased to see what the copper in the diet did though, most of the sheep’s feet were transformed into normal-looking feet after a summer of very frustrating hoof rot problems. If that continues, I’m hoping I can achieve trimming once a year, or less.

    • workingcollies says:

      Toni, I’m not sure, of course it would be safest to have a veterinarian look at it. In my experience though sometimes all it is is the oil gland between the toes getting plugged up and swelling. If I see a between-toes lump, I first try to “pick open” the gland opening (with a clean fingernail or instrument) and evacuate the cavity- if waxy stuff comes out, that’s probably what it is. With those, I just either let them heal up on their own once I’ve opened them up, or treat them for infection if it looks like the tissue is really inflamed. But, again, I am certainly not qualified to dispense veterinary advice, and the healthy feet are important for a ruminant to function. So it might be worth having it looked at by a professional, before the sheep becomes lame enough to start having more serious problems. Good luck!

  2. sheepsclothing says:


    I am really glad to have found your post. I got 5 shetland lambs earlier this year (june, July), and was just out there trimming their hooves for the first time today. I am really concerned about the delaminating that I noticed,, but I didn’t really see any inflammation or notice any smell- In the worst cases the outer hoof surface was completely separate from the inner material. Their hooves seem softer than I would have expected as well. It does make me wonder if perhaps they are just not getting what they need to grow hard, healthy hooves. Noone is limping (yet), but I am concerned as the wet season will soon be upon us. I’ve been afraid of giving them any copper, due to the potential toxicity,, but maybe that’s what they need.

    Ps. I think that we met on the WSU Livestock Adviser Pullman trip a while back- glad to hear things are going well for you!


    • workingcollies says:

      Denise, hi! I do remember you from the WSU trip! This hoof thing sure is a challenge, and I think there is just a lot more to it than writing it all off as hoofrot and just trying to treat it with foot soaks etc. Sometimes my sheep appear to have sore feet even when their feet look fine from outward appearances. So I feel it’s an internal problem first.

      Recently I discussed my situation with a ruminant nutritionist. He confirmed that I need to keep tinkering with my mineral supplements. He said that in our area, our grass can be so high in protein (and mine definitely is, according to lab analysis) that it causes animals to “lay down” hoof cell material at a very fast rate, and in a way that prevents the hoof cells from binding well with each other. So, you get fissures, then delamination and then possibly invasive things like hoof rot bacteria.

      He suggested the most important things to add for our area are zinc and biotin. He wasn’t as interested in the copper, but other sources have led me to copper being important to combat foot problems. And I already have a lot of zinc in my grass. But that might be something to try first- that Zinpro brand of zinc is carried by a lot of feed stores as are biotin supplements. I tried a biotin supplement earlier this year on a few of my worst sheep and I didn’t think it helped. But I think everyone’s situation is unique, and it’s worth experimenting until you find the right solution.

  3. jon koolstra says:

    hi am about to trim my sheeps feet where some nails have separated from the outside of the hoof and is storing a lot of mud / dirt. your blog is the first info I have found on this – do I understand that you cut the nail off where it separated leaving the exposed soft part of the hoof and it grows back ? or are these feet too far gone and cull the only option. no foot rot present, just scald and very over grown nails in a wet climate.
    ta ?

    • workingcollies says:

      Jon, yes, that’s what I do, is very aggressively cut anything that’s nonproductive tissue. I’m not a vet and of course you should consult one if you have doubts. But I feel that any time there is a loose “flap” that encourages mud to pack in there, it just exacerbates the problem, because mud packing and then the sheep walking on it will just push that separation further apart. I try to take as much off as possible to not leave any crevaces or separated layers. I find that when their feet are suffering from this, they lay down tissue at a really fast rate (I’m not sure if this is the precursor to the problem, or a reaction to it, or both!). So, if they do get on the healing path, they can grow a whole new hoof in a couple of weeks.

      Culling definitely seems like a valid choice, given that I think sheep that struggle with this tend to continue getting bouts of it. But I also believe that nutrition can right it, even in the worst cases, if you can nail down what’s missing in the diet. My sheep backslid quite a bit over the summer, but now I’m seeing improvement again in November- something about the feeding regimen I move to this time of year resolves a lot of the problem. Even despite our wet, muddy winters here.

      I spoke to two experts recently. One advised upping the zinc content in the feed, the other copper. I am now moving to an even higher copper concentrate than I had access to before, I’ll report back the results!

  4. Kathy Garcelon says:

    A shepherd once told me to put sandy gravel down in a place or places where the sheep must walk through it to get to pasture, water, hay, etc. The ‘fines’ or sand in the gravel help keep the feet scrubbed of mud, manure and the dampness that comes with those two things. –Not rocky gravel, sandy gravel with no clay or loam in it. I found it really does help. But nothing is a replacement for consistent foot care. When I see a hoof over grown enough that I’m tempted to cut those empty pockets all away, I’ve learned it is best to trim carefully–not down to the pad so much–then a few weeks later, check it again and trim a bit more. A sheep should be walking on it’s hoof, not the pad.
    This gradual trimming is more time consuming and kind of a pain but you do get the hoof back to normal without drawing blood–which I’d love to say I’ve
    never done, but I sure have. The sandy gravel helps, as does gradual trimming. But I am here at the farm all the time, too and my time with foot care would be different if I had to be elsewhere a lot. Drawing blood is bad not only because the foot will be so sore for the sheep to walk on but also because the cut will now allow bacteria to travel straight into the sheep.
    ….Each time I think I have learned quite a lot, I find there’s so much more to learn. “First, do no harm”.
    The sheep is such an extraordinarily useful, wonderful animal. I love them.
    My very best to all who love them as well!

    • Michelle Canfield says:

      Kathy, that’s interesting, I’ve not run across that advice before about sand, it seems there are so many things people try. I do rotational grazing and move the sheep to fresh pasture every few days most of the year, so I don’t have a traditional farm where the sheep pass through particular areas consistently.

      When my sheep get this bad, they actually completely lose the outer horn and their pad, it’s all just hanging by a thread and not doing the sheep any good. So I cut it off, because as it flaps, it gives opportunity for rocks and soil to wedge in there and cause further pain and encourage bacteria growth. This summer I’ll be up to around one hundred head, so it’s just not practical to do frequent trimming for me anymore. I’m really focusing on correcting their nutrition to improve foot health.

      My hoof problems are the reverse that a lot of people have- bad in summer when it’s warm and dry, and perfect in winter when it’s wet and muddy. In working with a nutritionist, I’ve found that one of the biggest contributors I probably have is high protein grass (one field we have is 29.7% CP!). And this makes sense, because though I was often seeing this “blown out” foot where the hoof wall and sole disintegrated, first I’d see no external problems at all- just incredibly sore feet. So I think the biggest problem I have is more founder-ey, it begins with internal inflammation and too-aggressive hoof cell growth, then finally the hoof falls apart. But even in summer, I’ve been able to significantly reduce foot problems by changing their mineral supplements. I’ve written a lot about this subject more recently, and am so pleased with the improvements I’ve seen. The few rare limpers I get now I treat with LA200/DMSO right away, and it seems to stop the problem before it goes sideways. So, I’m almost there- I dream of a day of only trimming feet once a year, and being lameness free!

  5. Barton Felch Farms says:

    I have 23 boer goats and 18 katahdin hair sheep, sometimes they run in a mixed herd out on the pastures. I have dealt with copper deficiency in the goats, and it led to some interesting discoveries with my sheep. I always avoided the loose goat mineral with copper because of the sheep, I only gave it when they were definitely separated and penned, otherwise I used a sel 90 loose mineral (my choice for broad farm critter use). When I started having copper deficiency problems in the goats, I bolused them, and started using the goat mineral consistently, deciding I would wait and see the toxicity reactions in the sheep, pulling the mineral if there was a problem…….well, none have occured. I believe in my area, the copper deficiency is pretty severe, severe enough the sheep need it. So, being a curious person, I copper bolused a sheep….an older one I might have culled just in case…..no problem (and this is in addition to the freechoice mineral. I’ve now been offering free choice goat mineral to all the animals for about 2 1/2 years, and am enjoying the most success I’ve had yet in conception, healthy births, and overall vigor… Our last lambing and kidding produced 100% conception, and 100% healthy births (no weak kids or lambs, polio, leg issues, retained placentas, or anything at all…….we had to straighten out 1 kids legs for proper presentation at birth, and that was the extent of our troubles 🙂 So, in my humble opinion, the sheep were severely deficient in copper, I havent managed to kill one yet with it, and I’ve tried (a little). I’m sure this is a regional issue, and I am in no way advocating the ignorant use of copper in sheep, however, N. of Spokane, WA they can apparently use it.

    • Michelle Canfield says:

      Barton Felch Farms, thanks for your comments- it’s useful to hear others’ experiences as well. I continue to have good luck with mineral supplements correcting the foot problems I used to have, and continue to use copper. I send cull and butcher sheep liver samples to WSU so I can monitor where they are in the spectrum, to mitigate the risk of overdosing them. There is some risk in that you won’t always know you are over-dosing them until some stressor triggers the copper dump into the bloodstream, and then it can kill them fast, and treatment is usually non-productive. So I feel it lowers risk to look at their liver levels, to know how much they are retaining. I try to keep my sheep in the high-normal range, and out of the “at risk” range.

      I think for some soils in our region (I’m in Western WA) it’s not so much that they are copper deficient, but that they are high in other minerals which bind with copper and render it non-bio-available. I met a feed salesman that says he has a lot of customers feed their cattle mineral supplement to sheep in WA state; so it’s not as uncommon of a practice as some might think.

  6. ellionator says:

    Hi Michelle. I’ve been following your blog and appreciate the post(s). I am in Appalachia (NC) and have shelly brittle hooves in every single one of my hair sheep. They are St. Croix and also I have some St Croix/Dorper. The hooves on some are worse than others but they are very brittle and soft to the cut, not nearly as tough as they should be. They are currently on southern states mineral mix. My forage is really rich with lots of broad leaf species so i suspect very high protein like in your pastures. Still waiting on forage tests. But I was wondering if you have an update on your mineral experimentations? Are you still doing a goat mineral? If so what brand? Im considering a goat mineral or cattle mineral, but also noticed there are some sheep mineral products that include copper as well. Also considering trying a lick to similar effect. Would love an update on your shelly hoof issues and what nutritional things have worked for you to date. Thanks again for this great blog.

    • Michelle Canfield says:

      ellionator, yeah, it’s funny to think of the journey I have gone on, that this was eight years ago. I have written off and on since then, I really should go back and edit old posts to tell a more cohesive story for people who stumble across the blog now. Long story short, I finally did settle on a mix that works well for me, and hoof problems are pretty rare for me now, I’d say about 1%. I suspect the key is different for everyone, because it depends on the variables of the sheep breeds and individual sheep you have, as well as your forage and whatever feed you bring in. But I think they key components of strong, hard hooves are sulfur, zinc, magnesium, calcium and copper. I have a pretty high ratio of those in my mix now, and this works well for me. I did a lot of sending liver samples to the lab, to get an idea of what they were actually synthesizing, and it was sure eye-opening. It didn’t correlate at all to what’s in my soil and forage, so for whatever reason, they aren’t necessarily able to digest what’s in the feed, so giving minerals free choice seems to help them balance out better.

  7. Michelle Canfield says:

    ellionator- it’s probably not helpful to you, it’s a mix of the American Stockmen brand trace mineral w/ selenium and a proprietary mix that’s custom blended for our cattlemen’s association, designed around our soils. Then, I add zinc sulfate, sulfur, boron (borax) and dolomite (calcium magnesium carbonate) to it.

    Since we all have access to different minerals and need different things, I think the first step is to send some livers to the lab next time you butcher, and see what they’re deficient in. Then search for a mineral brand that has more of that than your current brand. Then, rinse and repeat for several years until you stop seeing deficiencies! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *