A split hoof is a hoof that is divided into two different segments. Deer, cattle, and goats all have split hooves, among other mammals, and animals with split hooves are generally in the order of artiodactyls. In biology, split hooves can help distinguish an animal, and are also considered important for religious reasons, as some religions include split hooves in their dietary restrictions.
The shape of a split hoof involves two fingers that are clearly split and surrounded by a hard hoof material. The toes may also be capable of limited independent movement, and are prone to the same hoof diseases as single-helmeted animals. In addition, an animal with split hooves may also have horns; the only animals with real horns also have split hooves. Many animals of this order are also ruminants, that is, they have a specially adapted digestive system to facilitate the extraction of nutrition from plant material.
In some religious denominations, people can only eat animal meat with split hooves; some religious may also specify that these animals must also be ruminants. This is why observers of the Jewish faith eat beef, but not pork, because while both animals have split hooves, pigs are not ruminants. Many Christians are familiar with the section of the Bible that includes clean, unclean animals, in which the forked hoof is an important distinguishing feature. The bifurcated hoof has also been associated in some cultures with the devil; Satan is often depicted with cracked hooves in Christian religious art and writing, for example.
The marks left by a split hoof are quite distinctive. In areas with wild populations of ungulates such as deer, small marks of double hooves on the ground are quite common and are used to drag these animals into their natural environment. The tallest member of Artiodactyla is the giraffe, which has a special set of split hooves designed to support the giraffe’s unique skeletal structure.
It is important to take care of livestock and animals with cleft hooves. Hooves should be trimmed regularly to prevent overgrowth, and ideally should be cleaned, especially in the crack, to ensure that the hoof stays healthy and dry. Animals with hooves in general should also be kept in clean, dry beds, as their hooves can be severely infected if exposed to moisture, mold and bacteria. Many of these animals are trained to lift their legs to examine and manipulate them so that their owners can be sure they are in good health.