Saturday, August 27, 2011

Biomimetics in Vertical Action: Goat Hooves Confer Ninja-Like Climbing Abilities

While I am recovering from my surgery, some special contributors have stepped forward to offer some interesting content for Hoof Blog readers.  This is a post from one of my favorite blogs, called Core77. It's an industrial design journal, but the content is often fascinating and never boring. Imagine my surprise when I came upon an article about the engineering behind goat hooves one day...I think you'll enjoy this, too. Re-published with permission.

If you were my boss at an animal design firm and I submitted you this proposal sketch for a climbing animal, you'd probably think about firing me. There's nothing in the structure of this animal that suggests it would be good at scaling things.

Well, maybe you've seen these photos that National Geographic ran last year by photographer Adriano Migliorati:
Those are Alpine Ibex goats scaling a dam in Italy to lick the salt off of the rocks. Question is, how the heck do those guys get up there and stay up there? Why isn't the bottom of the dam covered in shattered goat carcasses?

The answer lies in the design of the goat hoof.


Unlike horses, goats have hooves comprised of two split toes. The outer part of each toe, which is shaped like a parabola when seen from below and is labeled "Wall" in the diagram below, is hard; the part marked "Sole" on the diagram is soft and rubbery.


The parabolic shape of the hoof wall adds strength, while the cushy sole provides traction on sloped surfaces and can deform inwards to absorb irregularities in the terrain. And because the toes can operate independently, the goat can use just one to gain purchase on extremely narrow surfaces, or splay the toes to gain more contact area.

Thanks to Core77 for permission to reprint this blog post. Read the original post here.

I used to live on a farm with a goat that probably could have won the goat-climbing Olympics and I never understood how he did it. This one's for you, Goaty-oats!

Click the ad image to order this amazing award-winning graphic anatomy reference from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine's Equine Foot Laboratory, thanks to Drs. Robert Bowker and Lisa Lancaster.

 © Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to  
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