How to Treat Common External Problems in Sheep : Hoof Problems (Shepherding Series Installment Four)

Last month we laid the groundwork and frame for discussing the external common problems faced by shepherds and sheep. To read that post – Click Here. Following that framework we are starting off with Hooves.

To watch the accompanying video please Click Here.

This month we are heading into the actual problems and how I treat them. While I may be a seasoned shepherd, I AM NOT A VETERINARIAN NOR CAN THIS ARTICLE REPLACE A VETERINARIAN. This is simply how I handled these issues on my farm and in my flock. Also, I highly recommend keeping your vet on speed dial the first three years in sheep. Now that the legal stuff is out of the way let’s jump right into it.


Hooves are the one thing I dread treating on the exterior of the sheep.  They don’t like it. I don’t like it. And my back hurts for days afterwards. But, hooves are important.

We have two major issues with hooves we have to deal with  – hoof rot and white line. Plus a few other ones.


You will know hoof rot when you smell it. This is an infection between the toes on the sheep.  Just like the name suggests it rots away the hooves. The smell is from the rotting flesh and hoof. Not only is it painful, but is very contagious.

We battle hoof rot mostly in hot, wet, humid weather. It can start through a small injury between the toes or a crack in the hooves due to weather conditions. No matter the cause  – treatment is a definite must.

I inspect all four hooves, trim anything loose, then dip in zinc sulphate solution. For cattle and goats copper sulphate is the go to solution. However COPPER IS POISONOUS TO SHEEP. Don’t use it. Ever. If I can’t get zinc I mix up some regular sulfur with pine tar (half and half), use that as a rub between the toes, and wrap over night before wiping off the next day. That is a last resort. I also give a shot of Pen-G at 1 ml per 100 pounds for three days. So far, that’s worked beautifully.

White Line or Shelly Hoof

Shelly hoof, or white line (depends on where you are from) is when the sole hoof separates from the hoof wall, allowing a pocket of air between the two, and eventually muck. There are different schools of thought about what causes it. The theories range from nutritional issues to genes to injury. My personal thought is that a combination of loser hoof wall attachments combined with rocky ground and damp conditions contribute to it.

The first line of defense is regular trimming. If it develops we simply trim away all of the loose horn and check regularly. So far this has worked and none of our cases have advanced. Mostly it effects our registered Romney ewes. I have found good trimmings every few months and keeping them in from wet pasture has prevented this from reoccurring.

Impacted Toe Gland

Sheep have a gland between their toes. This gland is usually small. However,  they can occasionally become clogged. It’s like a pore. And just like a pore on the human body, it can become impacted with oil and dirt.

Most of the time a firm yet gentle squeeze takes care of the problem. Rarely I have to soak it in warm water for a few minutes. And, yes. It is absolutely as fun as it sounds to tote a bucket of warm water from the house to the barn, catch the sheep, then hold its foot in the water for ten minutes straight, dry it off, and then squeeze it like Dr. Pimple Popper. Hijinks and hilarity ensue. Every time.


Very occasionally we have actual injuries occur. A sheep might step in a hole, lacerate the skin, or seriously chip the hoof.

For simple strains and sprains we isolate the patient for a few days with plenty of food and water.

Cuts are treated with a shot of Pen-G and blue kote or wonder dust to prevent infection if it is not serious. Anything more than that and I call my vet. While I do know how to do stitches, it’s been twenty years since I’ve done them on a living being and I would rather leave it to the professional. Besides, he has the lidocaine and there is no use in stressing them out needlessly. I’ll cover how to handle major injuries at some point, but for now, just know that this is the 5% of the time I call for help!

A seriously chipped hoof I smooth down with a rasp as long as it’s not bleeding. An injury deep enough to bleed on the hoof is most likely a complication of another problem and needs to be seen by the vet.


I personally have never had a case of granuloma on the farm. Typically this occurs from over trimming the hoof to the point of bleeding. Instead of horn growing back, proud flesh, like on human ingrown toes, comes in. This is another one I would call the vet about since I personally have never dealt with it. It is extremely rare in my area, and especially since I’ve dealt mostly with sheep that have been under trimmed.


Dealing with hoof issues in sheep does not need to be difficult or often. Prevention is worth 200 pounds of wrestling sheep with sore feet. We follow only two hard and fast rules about hooves at Kind Fibers.

1. Trim and inspect hooves regularly

We only trim about every six months. Our pastures are rocky enough to keep most growth issues under control. I do inspect their feet about every other month. This is simple enough to catch any problems early.

2. Keep them off wet pasture

This is THE BIGGEST ONE. Most problems we have are caused my dirt, damp, and bacteria getting together between toes and softening the hoof walls. By keeping our flocks on higher pastures in wet weather or during periods of standing water we prevent most of our problems. In seven years I have had four cases of hoof problems. Every time was after a period of wet weather. Three of those times were in the same year with the same three sheep. My back did not appreciate it and told my brain to keep them off the pastures. Since changing my wet weather management we have been hoof problems free.

I hope you found how I manage our flock’s feet helpful and informative. Since it’s shearing and trimming season the next Installment will be the actual trimming process.

Have a marvelous day,

Moriah and the flock

Published by Moriah Williams

Author, speaker, shepherdess, Earth Mamma, ordained minister, healer, fiber addict, sister, and daughter. It doesn't matter which title we wear. It only matters who we are underneath.

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