trimming less of an ordeal

17 October 1997

How to make

trimming less of an ordeal

Poor technique, inadequate hygiene and poor equipment

can often make foot trimming more of an ordeal than it

needs to be for producer and flock. Emma Penny reports

FOOT trimming is often regarded as one of the worst tasks on a sheep unit, but maintaining high production and welfare standards depends upon it.

According to Royal Vet College sheep specialist Rose Grogono, too many producers are still trimming feet incorrectly.

"Taking horn back too severely is like cutting your own nails too short."

Good vision

To ensure feet are correctly trimmed, remove mud, faeces and straw (pic 1) to ensure you can see what to trim, says Mrs Grogono. "Use a hose or put sheep through a footbath filled with water, and use a brush if necessary."

It is crucial that the ewes toe is cleaned out so that you can gauge how much to trim, she stresses (pic 2). "This is an area that is often over-trimmed, leading to concerns with granuloma – chronic inflammation around the digital artery and soft tissue – which is also known as cherrytoe."

The outer wall should be trimmed first, starting at the toe and working back towards the heel (pic 3). "Try to do this in one cut if possible to ensure a clean edge."

Outside wall

Sheep walk on the outside wall of their feet, so it is crucial that the wall is left slightly proud of the sole. Cutting the wall level with the sole increases bruising risk and means the sole and wall are more likely to separate, says Mrs Grogono.

The inside edge should then be trimmed, again starting at the toe and working back in as few cuts as possible (pic 4). This edge is not required for weight bearing and can be cut to about the same level as the sole.

Trimming the outside and inside wall edges is sufficient (pic 5) and should leave a well trimmed foot (pic 6). Mrs Grogono warns against cutting the toe.

Cutting likely

"Never chop the toe off first. The digital artery runs round the front of the foot, and if you cant see what you are doing you are likely to cut straight through it, increasing the risk of granuloma forming."

Even trimming just a little too far (pic 7) can draw blood, which increases risk of infection – particularly foot-rot – and granuloma (pic 8), she warns.

"Trimming feet badly only once can lead to a granuloma and will result in lame sheep. The only cure is to have this surgically removed by the vet under anaesthetic. Do not just chop it off, as it will recur as well as causing pain and blood loss."

Mrs Grogono is also anxious to dispel the myth that drawing blood is the only way to cure foot-rot.

She recommends trimming the horn which has separated from the foot (pic 9), but avoiding going beyond that and drawing blood.

Blood drawn

"Drawing blood means you have damaged the foot. When under-running caused by foot-rot is severe, sheep should be treated with antibiotics for a few days before trimming. This will kill the bacteria which cause inflammation, reducing pain."

Where foot-rot has been a previous concern, sheep are bound to have deformed feet, and no amount of trimming will restore them to their previous state, she points out.

"Trim as much as is reasonable, do not over-trim, as you will damage the foot further."

Particularly where animals have foot-rot, producers should seriously consider disinfecting shears between animals.

"Dipping in a bucket of farm disinfectant between animals should suffice or use separate shears for infected sheep. And remember to dry and oil them at the end of the task."

Shears setting

Ensuring shears are correctly set will make trimming easier. Shears should be like scissors; the point should meet – unlike those in pic 10 – and they should be sharp.

A turning crate will also make the task easier, reduce backache, and allowing a better view of what to trim. A concreted yard will keep ewes feet cleaner, lessen risk of slipping, and make it easier to sweep up foot-rot infected clippings to avoid spreading infection.

"Foot trimming is a horrible job, and the easier you can make it, the better," adds Mrs Grogono.


&#8226 Trim correctly.

&#8226 Do not over-trim.

&#8226 Disinfect shears.

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