GOAT health is serious business, but if you keep a watchful eye, you'll have a happy farm resident for many years.
Goats are farmed for their meat, fibre (cashmere and mohair) and milk and are also now a relatively common pet, with some dwarf breeds proving particularly popular.
Around the world there are more than 1000 breeds recognised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, though a much smaller number are in Australia.
While goats are similar in size and appearance to sheep, there are a number of important differences.
The first of these is their eating behaviour. Goats are generally browsing animals that prefer to eat long grass or shrubs, while sheep prefer to graze closer to the ground.
As a result, if sheep and goats are grazed together, sheep may out-compete goats. It is also important to know that while goats can be good at cleaning up weeds, they still require nutritious feed.
The best way to monitor if goats are getting enough feed is to regularly check their weight using scales, or check the amount of fat on their backbone in the lower back.
If they have very little fat in this area and are losing weight, they need an improved diet. Goats also need continual access to a high-quality water supply.
One of the most common causes of disease in goats is worms, especially Barber's pole worm, brown stomach worm and scour worms.
Depending on what sort of worm your goats have, the signs of serious disease range from anaemia to severe scouring and even death. You can find out whether your goats are anaemic by looking at their gums or the white part of their eyes, which will look much whiter than normal.
The easiest way to test if your goats have parasites before they actually become ill is a faecal egg count, which requires you to have some goat faeces tested.
You can contact your veterinarian or a parasitology laboratory regarding this test and subsequent treatment. Remember, if you are milking goats, you need to observe any milk withholding period after treatment.
Goats metabolise some veterinary drugs quite differently to sheep, so you need to be careful administering them. There are relatively few products available to specifically treat goats so again, you need to talk to your vet first.
Goats are also susceptible to some clostridial diseases such as tetanus and pulpy kidney, and the disease cheesy gland.
Clostridial diseases tend to cause rapid death in goats, which, unfortunately, is usually the first sign you get that anything is wrong. These diseases often occur one to two weeks after other management procedures such as dehorning or castration.
Cheesy gland presents as swollen lymph nodes, which can burst, further spreading disease.
The chance of your goat getting these diseases is reduced if they are vaccinated. These vaccinations are usually called 3 in 1, 5 in 1 or 6 in 1 as the vaccine contains several protective parts, and you need to choose the one relevant to your area.
This generally entails two vaccinations about a month apart as a kid and yearly boosters thereafter.
The other major issue you are likely to encounter with your goats is foot problems, particularly if your property has a long pasture-growing season and gets waterlogged. Goats are susceptible to overgrown toenails and may also be affected by footrot and foot abscess.
If your goats are on soft ground, they should have their nails trimmed to stop the toe becoming overgrown.
The bacteria that causes footrot doesn't survive away from animals for more than a few weeks, so if you don't have it on your property, the best way to avoid problems is to ensure you don't bring it on to your property with any new animals. If you do have a problem with footrot, you will need to talk to your vet.
For any animals that develop foot abscess, it needs to be drained by trimming the hoof and administering antibiotics.
All animals you bring on to your property should be quarantined before being introduced to other goats. This will protect your animals from diseases such as caprine arthritis encepahalitis and Johnes disease, both of which can lead to weight loss and death.
Both diseases can have long-term effects on your goat herd and it is best to discuss with your vet methods for removing or controlling them.
- Dr Stuart Barber is a lecturer in veterinary science at the University of Melbourne.