Care of Goats

General Information

Taking care of goats is a major responsibility. One goat keeper correctly summarized it as, "Goat-keeping is a 365-day a year job. You cannot just say 'I do not feel like taking care of the goats today.'" While one can occasionally delegate the responsibilities of taking care of goats to a qualified individual, a goat-keeper cannot just purchase goats, put them in a field, and expect them to be okay.

You should keep at least two goats. A single goat will tend to be lonely and call for companionship.

Goats should be kept in a suitable home that offers the goats protection from drafts (strong wind currents). A three-sided shelter is suitable if the home is deep and offers the goats protection from rain. An ideal goat home is not air-tight.

It is very important to ensure that dogs and other wild animals cannot get into the goat pen.

During warm months, flies may bother goats. Most fly traps are ecologically acceptable. However, they are useless unless an effort is made toward cleanliness in the goat home and pen.

The goats' grain should be kept in rodent-proof containers, such as in sealed garbage bins or in clean metal drums. A haystand should be provided that is designed in such a manner so that the hay will be kept off of the ground, with care given to ensure that goat kids cannot climb into it.  Hay should be stored in a manner so that it does not touch the ground. For example, pallets, plastic, or wood can be used to protect it from the ground. Hay that is left close to the ground for long periods of time is likely to become moldy.

Goats can receive their water from clean buckets, preferably raised off of the ground a few inches. The bucket must be kept clean, as goats will not drink dirty water, or from a dirty bucket.

Goats should have baking soda and powdered minerals available on a free-choice basis. Your feed bag will generally describe what type of minerals should be given to the goats.

It can be hard to find hay that goats will love eating! Generally, alfalfa, clover, or other mixes are suitable. Some experts recommend a hay that is one-half legume (such as alfalfa) and one-half grass (like timothy grass). NEVER feed hay or grain that is moldy. It is important to ensure that goats do not bloat if they are given fresh, newly cut green hay.

Goats, like all animals, need to be taken care of well. A new goat owner should locate a Veterinarian who will treat goats, for many practices are limited to the care of cats and dogs. Medicine for small animals is different than for large ruminants. Therefore, try to locate a veterinarian who specializes in large ruminants, such as cows and horses. The American Association of Equine Practitioners will refer callers to vets who are large ruminant specialists. Call 1-800-GET-A-DVM for a referral.  Most goats need to receive a yearly tetanus and extrotoxemia vaccine, although each region's requirements are different. Kids in selenium-deficient areas are usually given Bo-se shots by their Veterinarian.

Goats also need to be treated regularly for Internal Parasites (worms).  This usually consists of a goat owner working with a licensed veterinarian to vary the brand and type of worm medicine to avoid the development of parasites that are resistant to worm medicine.

Also, goats generally need their hoofs trimmed once a month. This is a relatively simple and quick procedure.

Breeding

Goats will generally have a heat cycle that lasts one or two days every 18 to 21 days. The heat cycle usually only occurs from late-August until mid-March. The heat cycle is characterized by uneasiness, riding other animals, shaking the tail, bleating, etc. After breeding, the gestation period (time from pregnancy until birth) is approximately 150 days for dairy goats.

Goats should not be bred until they are at least 85 pounds, or about 10 months old. Earlier breeding can stunt the growth of both the fetus and the pregnant doe.  Goats generally have two offspring; the sex ratio tends to be 115 males to 100 females.

Pregancy Toxemia

Pregnancy Toxemia (ketosis) is a potentially fatal condition that can affect pregnant does in their last five weeks of pregnancy, or shortly after freshening. Ketosis, if detected early, can be treated successfully, but mortality is high if not detected early.

Pregnancy toxemia (ketosis) is not a virus or bacteria, but rather is a nutritional deficiency. Ketosis usually affects does within five weeks before their kidding date. Symptoms include dullness or depression, and not eating well. Symptoms will progress to general weakness, not walking, or walking oddly. These symptoms can rapidly progress, and cause the doe to sit down, and be unable to rise. Does reaching this stage may have reached an irreversible stage of the condition.

Ketosis can be treated successfully if detected early. Urine tests, such as Keto-check, are generally accurate. However, it is best to suspect ketosis anytime a pregnant doe behaves oddly, or is sitting down more than usual. Treatment usually consists of giving the doe propylene glycol, which is non-toxic. It is therefore acceptable to give the doe propylene glycol if symptoms indicate the condition, but the doe is unable to be tested.

Prevention is the best way to avoid the condition. This includes top dressing the feed of does in late pregnancy with sugar or molasses. Molasses can also be added to the goats' water.

Selenium-Deficient Areas

Some areas of the country are "selenium-deficient."  Selenium is a mineral found in the earth.  Goats, especially pregnant does and kids, in selenium-deficient areas of the country may require a bo-se injection by their veterinarian to prevent the occurrence of white muscle disease.

Goat Illnesses

Goats are usually healthy animals if they are properly cared for. However, even the healthiest of animals can fall ill.  This is one of the many reasons why a goat owner must develop a working relationship with a large-animal veterinarian before the goat herd exhibits symptoms of illness.  There are many conditions which may affect goats.

Caprine Arthritis and Encephalitis Virus

Caprine Arthritis and Encephalitis Virus (CAEV) is a widespread condition in dairy goats that, in a majority of instances, will be transmitted to goat kids by infected does unless proper preventative measures are taken.

The effects of CAEV are not always visible. Caprine Arthritis is a retrovirus that generally infects kids, nut most kids do not exhibit any serious symptoms until they get older in age. The most common symptoms would probably be swollen knees or hocks, but these can also be symptoms of injury or contagious arthritis. The only way to positively identify a CAEV-infected doe is through blood tests, but these may not always be accurate since CAEV is a retrovirus and thus not always visible in blood tests.

CAEV, in some instances, will affect young kids. The encephalitis virus will infect young goats, and as this author has found, can affect goats of any age. Symptoms are similar to those of white muscle disease. The symptoms begin with the kid not being able to move the hindlegs. The disease will generally progress forward to the front legs, etc. The kid is also unable to eat or drink foods in large quantities. The virus usually ends in seizures and death. Reluctance to move and limb stiffness are not uncommon symptoms of CAEV in kids.

Post-mortem examination will generally reveal light brown areas in the white areas of the brain and spine. Other joints may also be "knotty" or otherwise enlarged. No determination has been made as to why the CAEV virus quickly affect the neurological system of some goats, while it will only cause knotty joints in other animals.

There is no known treatment or vaccine for CAEV. Treatment is thus usually aimed at the control of symptoms.

It is possible to prevent the transmission of CAEV. Prevention generally consists of removing kids from infected does, not allowing infected does to lick the kids, and removing the kid to a separate "kid house" that is separate from the does' home. The kid should also be fed heat-treated colostrum. Immunoglobulins should also be fed to the kid, for pasteurization of the milk will destroy much of the good bacteria in the milk that the kid needs to properly assimilate the milk. Immunoglobulins can be provided by feeding products such as NurseMate ASAP or other products that contain lactic acid-producing bacteria.