Livestock producers have been breeding for better cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry for decades, yet the concept of raising an improved dairy goat eludes a lot of people. (Including us!) We are at the beginning of our big learning curve.
Goats are fairly hardy animals but they are susceptible to several serious life-threatening health problems.
Stomach worms, pneumonia, overeating disease, and coccidiosis are the most commonly seen diseases. Others include but are not limited to tetanus, listeriosis, polioencephalomacia, meningeal deerworm, caseous lymphadenitis, caprine arthritic encephalitis, Johnes disease, multiple pregnancy-related diseases, and several nutritionally-related illnesses and deficiencies.
We are grateful to those much more experienced than us (with amazing results shown over 30+ years) for providing us a good start to our learning.
A goat can look just a little “sick” or “down” one day, and the next day be gone. That is a heart-wrenching (and expensive) thought. Goats can go downhill so quickly that a “wait and see” approach is never a good idea. One thing we have learned is that the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings very true with goats.
So this post will focus on the “prevention” of illness or injury. Of course there are times when even when the best practices are followed, a goat owner may still have to deal with an illness. We’ll save that information for another post. This post is all about prevention.
Preventative Care Starts With....
· Goats need to be able to roam with good forage/browse for them to eat. We currently have 5 pastures (adding two additional soon) on which to rotate our goats. During wormy season, we can rotate the goats more often to keep the bugs guessing and the population of parasites low.
· We also rotate our goats with our chickens. Some vets have told us that coccidia parasites can transfer between goats and birds, but this is simply not true. Each parasite is species-specific! This is what we see in nature: birds always follow the herbivores around as they roam, and act as a bug-eating clean-up crew. They do not transfer parasites, they actually confuse them because a goat parasite cannot survive on a chicken and a chicken parasite cannot survive on a goat.
· Goat fencing must be in good repair with openings that aren’t large enough to get their horns hooked. We use horse fencing for this purpose.
Controlled Water Supply
· Clean water! Control where the goats are getting their water. No drinking from puddles or ponds. We clean out water buckets daily and keep them up off the ground as well.
· Goats are browsers and really do not need, nor is it very good for them, to have grains. However, some grain mixes can assist with ensuring the goats get proper nutrition, vitamins and minerals. We give a small amount of only organic goat ration to our goats daily.
Minerals available at all times, free choice. We use a goat mineral that is prepared specifically for goats, giving them the copper that is required along with the other critical minerals goats need.
- Hay is available free choice at all times. Hay is kept dry and free of mold.
- We also give them kelp for a natural added mineral boost. We use a kelp meal grown in cold water and dried geothermally, It can be found here: http://thorvin.com/products/livestock/
· Baking soda available at all times. If an upset stomach occurs, a goat knows just what to do. To make that extra acid in the stomachs calm down, they eat baking soda as needed. This is usually enough to keep the PH in the rumen at the right level.
Protection from Predators… and Rain!
· We are unable to have a guardian dog so we move our goats into the barn every night for sleeping.
· Keep them dry! This is important. Goat’s hate being wet and there is a reason for that. A dry goat is less likely to develop illness and parasites.
o This is another reason we always have the barn stalls ready. In the case of heavy rain or muddy pastures, they have a dry place to be.
o Parasites love wet, warm pastures, so when it rains we rotate the goats more often before the parasite load has a chance to build to a dangerous level.
o In addition, the dry resting places (in our case, barn stalls) keep their hooves from developing rot from too much wetness.
o We provide a wooden stand that the goats can get up on if they want to get off a pasture covered with dew. That table gives them a dry place to stand or rest. Plus, goats just generally like to climb on things!
· Properly trimming hooves regularly will help with preventing both foot rot and potential lameness from overgrown hooves.
- The ability and willingness to check on goats on a daily basis. Yes daily!
- Checking for hydration, checking their poo and their general look for any sign of illness.
- Watching for diarrhea (also called ‘scours’ in goats) is important because it many times can indicate an underlying illness. Taking their temperature and watching for changes is critical if scours are present.
- Checking the inside of a goats eyelids tells us about their health as well. They should have a very pink/red lid. Goats can go into dehydration quickly when they have scours, which can quickly lead to too much acid in the stomach.
- Once a goat is lying down, tail down, ears down, and/or not eating… it’s many times too late. Attentiveness can save a goat.
- It sometimes means dropping everything else we have going on that day to administer proper next steps. But an ounce of prevention is well worth it!