It’s very common for healthy kid goats to display a condition where they start walking on the front of the front hooves. It can be extreme with goats displaying bowed legs, walking almost on pasterns, buckling down over the knuckles, or bending back legs in at the hock joint toward the body so it looks like the leg is broken. If left alone, most of these problems will improve with age, and within one or two weeks, the kid should be walking normally. If it is severe and doesn’t show improvement within a few days, you can splint the leg, and it will usually clear up. Normally, this isn’t a genetic problem, but it can be inherited, usually through inbreeding.
You can make a splint with a tongue depressor padded with cotton. Place it down the back of the leg and secure it with electrical tape or veterinary elastic wrap. Wrap the tape several times around the hoof, above the pastern joint and up the leg. Do not wrap it too tightly: You’ll cut off the circulation. (A good guideline is to wrap it as tightly as you would your own ankle.) If using electrical tape, you can also put cloth or gauze around the leg so the tape doesn’t stick to the hair.
Another way to splint a leg is with a length of PVC pipe that is the same diameter as the leg. Cut the PVC pipe in half lengthwise, pad the inside with cotton, lay the kid’s leg inside (the open section will be on the front of the leg), and secure it with electrical or veterinary elastic tape. If you’re splinting the front leg, the pipe should reach the elbow joint. For a back leg, the pipe should extend to the hock joint.
Leave the splint on for three to four days, then remove it to see if the problem has been corrected. If it hasn’t, replace the splint for an additional three days before inspecting it again. Depending on the severity of the joint displacement, the leg may require five to six weeks of treatment with the splint. There’s no surgical option for correction: The goat either grows out of the problem, or it doesn’t.
When I was a child, my family inbred some Angora goats resulting in offspring with legs that were bent and joints that were stiff. We splinted these goats and straightened the legs to some degree, but some had stiff legs for the rest of their lives.
I’ve been involved in ram performance tests in Wyoming and Texas in the past, and researchers often see a condition called bent leg (bowed front legs) in both sheep and goats. We’ve always thought it was a general mineral imbalance, mainly phosphorous, but never came to a definite conclusion because the animals receive this nutrient on a regular basis in their feed. You’ll see a condition in young goats that are “out in the shoulders,” and you’ll see adult animals like this. Many people will say they stand wide, but it’s actually bowing out in the shoulder. This is a skeletal flaw, but this may not be the case in your kid—it could grow out of it with time. The skeletal flaw is genetic, so avoid breeding goats with this condition to prevent passing the trait on to its offspring.
—Frank Craddock, PhD, Texas A&M University Extension sheep and goat specialist
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2011 issue of Hobby Farms.
About the Authors: Sharon Biggs Waller is an award-winning writer and author of Advanced English Riding (BowTie Press, 2007). She lives on a 10-acre hobby farm in northwest Indiana with her husband, Mark, 75 chickens, two Lamancha goats, two horses, and an assortment of cats and dogs. Dr. Lyle G. McNeal is a livestock specialist in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences at Utah State University.