Farming goats is no simple task

by Dr Marjorie Orr

Goats are not the hardy creatures many people think they are.

They are fastidious eaters, they need good shelter, they are very susceptible to worms and Johne’s disease, their feet need trimming regularly and the Angora-type goats have continuously growing fleece which must be shorn each year.

All in all, it takes a good deal of time and effort to farm goats well, and you have to know what you are doing. 

Feeding

• Goats like to browse (stems and twigs from bushes)

• The standard ryegrass and clover sward is not their preferred choice.

• Trial and error will show you what grass species and weeds they favour, and they welcome browse like willow, tree lucerne and some poplar trees.

• They like their fodder to be clean too. If it is at all dirty or if any other animal has touched it or walked over it, they will avoid it. This is why the tethered goat on dusty oily verges is so often under-nourished.

Shelter

• Goats hate cold, wet and windy weather. If they are exposed to bad weather they just won’t eat and are totally miserable.

• It’s important to provide them with robust weatherproof shelter.

• Shelter is particularly important after shearing, especially for cashmere (feral-type) goats that are slow to regrow their fleece.

Feet

• If the horn on the toes becomes too long, it curls under the foot, trapping dirt and predisposing to problems like foot rot.

• Overgrown horn must be trimmed back as often as necessary, usually once or twice a year.

• Only dead horn should be cut away, not sensitive tissue containing blood.

• If you draw blood when you trim feet, painful infections may develop. 

• Feet trimming equipment should be sharp and very clean, with regular disinfection.

Johne’s disease

• Goats seem particularly susceptible to Johne’s disease, which is a relatively common and incurable bacterial disease.

• Any goat farmer who has goats that suddenly lose weight, scour profusely and die in spite of attempted treatment should contact a veterinarian to test for the disease.

• If Johne’s is confirmed, there are various management options to control it, including vaccination.

Worms

• Worm control is very tricky, drench resistance is well established, and goats are relatively susceptible to worms.

• If you have goats you really should discuss worm control with your veterinarian, so that the extent of any worm problems can be assessed properly, and management programmes can be developed to ensure effective worm control.

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