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Basic Goat Care Information

It's important to know

This is taken from a goat care info sheet that I wrote to send with goats I sell. I think all the information is good to have and relevant to all goat owners, no matter the experience level. I haven't gone very in depth on most of these topics but rather given a brief overview of the things I think are most important to know when taking on the care of goats.

Goat Care

Physiology of Goats

The typical lifespan of a goat is approximately 12 to 14 years. However, goats that have exceptional care have been known to live well into their late teens with excellent quality of life.

Mature female goats (“does”) of the larger breeds (including Alpine) generally weigh between 125 and 175 pounds. Mature male goats (“bucks” if uncastrated, and “wethers” if castrated) of the same breeds generally weigh between 150 and 225 pounds. Normal body temperature for goats is 102 °F to 103.5 °F. Pulse rate is around 70 to 80 beats per minute. Respiration is around 15 to 30 breaths per minute.

Nutritional Needs of Goats

Water

Clean, fresh water must always be available to your goats. Use heavy containers to prevent spilling or buckets set high enough to prevent fecal matter from contaminating the water. Goats will turn away from dirty water, even when they need to drink so making sure the water is clean is important. I've found that my goats have color preferences when choosing what trough to drain first. They start with the lightest color and end with the darkest!

Minerals

Essential to daily nutrition, minerals should always be available to your goat. Goat minerals come in multiple forms, including loose minerals and mineral blocks. We highly recommend feeding loose minerals as goats have high mineral needs and can’t get enough from a block. Loose mineral feeders can be made from a few pieces of PVC for under $10 and work very well.

A simple mineral feeder out of PVC.

Vitamin B

Goats need vitamin B to for their rumens to function. A severe vitamin B deficiency results in goat polio. This has signs that include weak hind legs, staggering, and star gazing (the goat will tip her head back or up and to the side, as if gazing at the sky). Goats are most susceptible during times of high stress like weaning, diet change, or location changes. When supplementing vitamin B it must be labeled “fortified” or it won’t be strong enough to help the goat. Follow label directions. You can not overdose a goat on vitamin B; the goat will use what it needs and excrete the rest so during times of high stress vitamin B can be supplemented daily without harming the goat. Oral vitamin B is available for goats and while I use it the injectable solution is better utilized by the goats body.

Copper

Goats have very high requirements for copper. Here at C&H Scapegoats we’ve found that in addition to offering a free choice loose minerals we also need to copper bolus our goats. I do our first copper bolus when our goats are around 6 to 8 months old and then I bolus every 4 to 5 months. There are many different reasons that goats might need more copper than standard guidelines advise. For us it’s having iron in our well water. Iron inhibits the goats ability to absorb the copper and to meet their needs we have to use more frequent supplementation. Signs that your goats might need more copper include fish tails, dull, dry, rough coats, dull color, and, in severe situations, color and hair loss around the eyes.

Feed

As ruminants (animals with stomachs that have four chambers), goats rely mainly on hay or pasture to fulfill their dietary needs. They need at least eight hours of grazing time per day.

The best pastures include clovers and mixed grasses. When using only pasture for roughage, be careful not to overgraze. The best system for grazing is to use two or more pastures and rotate as needed. This method not only allows unused pastures to regenerate, but it also cuts down on parasite problems. Before giving your goats access to a pasture, be sure to remove all plants that are poisonous to them. Contact your County Agricultural Extension agent for a complete listing of poisonous plants in your area. Never put goats on a very rich clover or alfalfa pasture that is wet with rain or dew because this can cause bloat.

If adequate pasture is not available, feed your goat grass-type hay such as timothy. Alfalfa hay is very high in calcium and protein and should be used only for goats with a high demand on their body like nursing kids, sick, pregnant or debilitated animals. To locate a source of hay in your area, check with your County Agricultural Extension agent for a listing of hay/straw auctions or look in the farming section of your local

paper. Because hay is less expensive per bale when purchased in large quantities, building some type of hay storage structure or loft can be well worth the investment if you have more than a few goats.

Goats are born browsers and actually seem to prefer eating leaves, weeds, briars, and other plants to grazing only on grasses. One of the reasons for this is that goats have very high mineral needs and deep rooted plants, shrubs, and trees have much higher mineral content than grasses. Make sure you have a full list of plants that are toxic to goats because they are numerous. Many ornamental plants, such as rhododendron, can be fatal to goats.

Because grain is very high in fat and causes kidney and bladder stones in goats, especially wethers , we discourage feeding it regularly to healthy goats. It may, however, be used to supplement hay or pasture for goats with dental issues or other ailments that cause unhealthy weight loss. When feeding grain to wethers, use a grain that contains ammonium chloride to help prevent stones from forming. Monitor all goats for obesity, which is very unhealthy for them. Older goats can easily gain too much weight on even small amounts of feed or hay.

Handling Goats

When working with goats, be calm and gentle in your approach. Goats are nervous by nature and will spook easily if you yell or handle them roughly. When getting your new goats used to you, sit quietly and let them approach you in a small area. You can offer small amounts of treats, like raisins, to encourage their interest. Most goats like to have their shoulders scratched and under their chin or jaw. Goats have the best peripheral vision of almost any animal in the world. The only place they can’t see is the top of their heads and between their own eyes. They don’t prefer to be touched there.

When handling your goats, use a rope halter or collar (available at farm supply stores or through catalogs). If your goats have horns, these can also be held to control them, although some goats do not like this and get quite snotty about having their horns touched. It is best to have a second person to assist you. Handling your goat too roughly will cause him to struggle more, so the best amount of restraint is just enough to keep him still.

Goats are very intelligent and are easy to train. Teach your goat to lead by walking with him and using a treat to encourage him to move forward with you. It’s very similar to teaching a puppy! The most important thing I ever taught my goats, beyond leading, is not to rush gates! Goats can be very pushy and a stern word or light bonk on the head can discourage them from unwanted behavior like jumping on you or trying to push through the gate when you open it.

Goats are very easy to train!

Shelter Requirements for Goats

Buildings

For goat housing, a pole barn is ideal but a shed of adequate size is acceptable. I've known multiple people that kept smaller breed goats in large dog houses or igloos quite successfully. We also recommend dirt floors, gravel topped with mats, or stall mats over wood, which can be slippery and therefore put goats at risk of torn ligaments and joint damage. Allow at least 25 square feet per goat, and be sure the shelter has good ventilation and no direct drafts. Always provide your goats with plenty of clean, dry straw or shavings for bedding. Remove damp and soiled straw daily, or use a deep bedding method. When deep bedding is done correctly you should be able to kneel on the floor and stay dry and there should be no ammonia smell. Lightly spreading hydrated lime, DE, or Stall Dry on any wet areas will help control moisture and prevent the spread of bacteria.

A simple goat shelter with high tensile 6 strand electric fence.

Fencing

In addition to adequate shelter, goats need a fenced-in outdoor area. The ideal fencing to use for goats is 4-foot-high, woven wire, “no climb” horse fencing, available at farm supply stores. High tensile electric fencing can also be used, especially if you are housing cattle and goats together. Field fencing, which has large, square openings, puts goats, especially those with horns, at risk of getting their heads caught. Field fencing can work well when combined with two strands of electric, one low to prevent putting heads through and rubbing and one high to prevent the goats from standing on the fence or jumping over it. Regularly walk along your fence line to check for holes dug under the fencing by predators.

Tethering

Tethering your goats (putting them on a long leash) is not recommended as it can be stressful for them. Tethering is also very dangerous because a goat can accidentally hang himself on a tether. Please, just don’t tether your goats!

Pasture

We recommend one acre of land for every three to four full size goats, although the amount of pasture necessary varies according to the quality of the forage planted, fertility of the ground, and quantity of hay the goats are fed. Goats can be kept on small areas of land with rotational grazing set up and supplemented hay. For warm weather, the fenced area must have plenty of shade. Erect fences around any shade trees you want to keep because goats are great landscapers and will destroy unprotected trees.

Rotating goats from one small area to another gives the grass time to grow and ensures that the goats are not grazing too close to the ground, where the majority of parasites are picked up. This pic shows the time (in grass length) when I rotate my goats. The right side with the stumps is the side they are moving off and over to the right where the grass is tall.

Health Care for Goats

Maintenance

Goats are relatively easy to take care of, and sanitary housing, good quality pasture, nutritious food, and plenty of sunshine will greatly help to reduce health problems.

Goats need to have their hooves trimmed every four to six weeks. This is very important because neglect of hooves can lead to lameness and infection. Hoof trimming is a simple procedure that your veterinarian can

teach you. Hoof trimmers are available through farm supply stores or catalogs. We use a long arm mini angle grinder and it works very well for us!

During your daily contact with your goats, always be on the lookout for any physical or behavioral changes. Symptoms indicating illness include loss of appetite, limping, listlessness, labored breathing, diarrhea, discharge from the eyes or nose, hunched bodies, standing with heads against a wall or tree, and abnormal body temperature. If any of these symptoms occur, consult your veterinarian immediately.

Probiotics and Vitamin B

Our first step with any goat that is behaving oddly or seems stressed is to give probiotics and vitamin B. These two things are supportive care for goats. It’s pretty incredible what kind of a boost they can give a goat and they are things that can do no harm.

Vaccines

Make sure your goats are vaccinated for tetanus and clostridium (C, D, &T). Kids get a series of shots at 3 weeks and 5 weeks of age and wether goats get another booster when castrated. You can vaccinate goats for rabies too. The rabies vaccine is very hard on a goats system and should not be given within a month of other vaccines.

Common Health Issues of Goats

Upper Respiratory Infections

A respiratory infection is any infection that affects the goat’s breathing apparatus, including the nose, trachea/windpipe, bronchi, and lungs. Symptoms include nasal discharge, excessive coughing or sneezing, loss of appetite, and increased body temperature. If any of these symptoms occurs, consult with your veterinarian. Goats get colds and are more likely to get colds if they are around other goats with colds or are not in good health.

Coccidiosis

Coccidia are protozoan parasites that, when present in small numbers, cause very little damage to adult goats, most of whom are infected and immune. Kids, however, are extremely susceptible to coccidia, and an acute infestation of this parasite can be fatal to them. Almost all species of animal have their own strains of coccidia. Very young and very old goats or goats with weakened immune systems are at the most risk. A cocci outbreak in young goats can cause scarring to the small intestine and retards the ability to absorbs nutrients from food. With severe cases, the growth of the goats kid can be stunted. Coccidiosis is usually easy to prevent with good housing and cleaning standards. It is most common in spring or warm, wet conditions.

These Boer kids had severe Coccidia when I brought them home. Even with treatment in the first 12 hours of symptoms, one kid was too damaged and lost his ability to absorb nutrients from feed. These kids were the same age, housed together, and fed the same. The damaged kid died while the other thrived.

Other Internal Parasites

Parasites thrive in areas that are cool and damp. Parasites are one of the most prevalent health threats among goats, and many types of parasites have developed resistance to the most common treatments. Strongyles are one of the more common parasites, but a few that are much more dangerous are listed below. Having a fecal sample sent to vet before deworming is inexpensive and will save you the time and money on a dewormer that is ineffective against the worm your goat might have. The most common parasites in this area are Lungworms and Barber Pole worms.

Lungworms

Lungworms, like many parasites, are passed through the feces and then ingested by grazing animals. They then travel to the lungs and trachea. Only in severe infestations do these parasites cause sheep to manifest clinical signs such as fever, coughing, and nasal discharge, but older animals, younger animals, or animals with weakened immunity can become quite sick and even die from these parasites.

Barber Pole (Haemonchus)

Barber pole is the most deadly of the stomach worms that infest sheep and goats. Barber pole is a blood-sucking parasite that pierces the lining of the abomasum, or the true stomach, of the goat. This process causes anemia and can quickly lead to death. The most obvious symptom of this parasite is anemia. Many goats have black or gray gums, which makes the gums difficult to use to diagnose anemia. The “FAMACHA system” can help you identify anemia by examining the inner lower eyelid of a goat. Cards are used in this system to help you identify anemia by comparing the color of the lower eyelid with a color chart. As a rule of thumb (pun intended) if the goats inner eyelid is at least as deep pink as the nail bed of your thumb, they are ok. Bottle jaw or fluid accumulation under the chin is another sign of this infestation. In many areas of the country, these parasites are becoming resistant to chemical dewormers. Prohibit and Cydectin are the most effective but both are extra label for goats. Adequate copper levels are very helpful in treatment and prevention of Barber Pole worm in goats.

Bloat/Grain Poisoning.

Bloat is a serious condition commonly caused by overeating grain or new pasture. Preventive steps should be taken to stop bloat from occurring. Do not put goats out on new pasture until their digestive systems have adjusted to that type of pasture. Be especially careful to prevent bloat if you have fields of rapidly growing plants such as alfalfa and clover. Gradually introduce goats to new pasture by feeding them some of the new pasture for a few days along with their regular hay. Then, after feeding hay, turn them out for only a few hours at a time, making sure that the field is not wet. A wet field is more likely to cause bloat than a dry field. Offer baking soda free choice. This will help the goats balance the Ph of their rumen and can help

prevent or treat bloat. Make sure feed barrels and bags are completely inaccessible. Goats will gorge themselves on grain, which leads to bloat and grain poisoning.

The first obvious symptoms of bloat are distention of the rumen of the left side, labored breathing, and signs of discomfort such as kicking, grinding teeth, bawling, and profuse salivation. The stomach will be silent. A normal goat will have stomach sounds every 1 to 1.5 minutes.

Abscesses

Abscesses are pockets of infection filled with pus, usually caused by wounds or cuts that have penetrated the skin. Abscesses can occur anywhere on a goat’s body and are indicated by swellings or lumps under the skin. If you notice any unusual lumps or swellings on your goat, isolate him from the herd and contact your veterinarian. Accesses are often caused by vaccination injections.

Hoof Rot

Hoof rot is a bacterial infection of the hoof. It is more prevalent during wet seasons or when goats spend long periods of time on wet ground, which softens the hooves and feet and makes them more prone to openings. By tending to your goats hooves on a regular basis, keeping your pastures free of wet areas through proper drainage, and keeping bedding clean and dry, you will help prevent the occurrence of hoof rot. Hoof rot is common here in the Willamette Valley but can be caught early and treated with minimal stress to the goat.

I hope this helps everyone out there to have healthier, happy goats!

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