General Management of Goats

BySigne G. Balch, DVM, DPhil
Reviewed/Revised Oct 2022

    In both extensive and intensive management systems, goats should be provided clean, uncrowded shelter that protects them from weather extremes. Adequate ventilation must exist to prevent overheating in warm climates and the accumulation of ammonia in structures tightly sealed against cold. Bedding should be clean, dry, and replaced when soiled. Shelter and paddock substrates should be kept as dry as possible to minimize the risk of foot diseases.

    If possible, areas separate from the flock’s primary shelter should be established for sick or quarantined animals. Likewise, an area that ensures minimal contact with other goats and that can be easily and frequently cleaned should be created for kidding. Confinement management systems should also allow adequate space for movement and rest. Grazing management systems should keep stocking densities below the carrying capacity of the land to avoid overgrazing and environmental degradation. If goats are well managed in extensive production systems, they can be used to improve rangelands by removing noxious weeds and decreasing the risk of wildfires.

    Fencing, when used, should be kept in good repair to minimize loss of animals and possible entrapment. Goats are natural jumpers and climbers, so structures that goats can scale should not be near a fence line. However, structures that provide environmental enrichment can keep curious, energetic goats entertained when confined. Measures should be taken to guard against predators, particularly during kidding season and in large grazing herds. In urban and semiurban areas, the greatest predator risk often comes from neighboring dogs.

    Goats are browsers and like to consume a variety of vegetation at a variety of heights. Goats are also one of the most feed-competitive domesticated ungulates. In confinement systems, feeders designed to accommodate the natural elevated-head browsing behavior of goats encourage better feed consumption. Providing multiple feeding stations with ample room for animals prevents dominant goats from guarding food and keeping animals of a lower social status from eating. Goats do not like to eat from the ground. Moreover, feeding directly off the ground in confinement systems increases the risk of disease and should be avoided.

    The social and competitive nature of goats leads them to establish a hierarchical social structure within a herd. Especially with small herds, goats should be introduced to a new herd in pairs to keep ostracizing behavior from isolating new herd members. In confinement systems, enough space should be provided to allow goats of lower social status to escape from more dominant goats. Goats that cannot escape may be subjected to unrelenting head butting and injury because they cannot indicate subservience by moving away from the dominant goat. Goats with horns almost always dominate goats without horns. Because aggression and dominance behavior can increase during breeding season, new bucks should not be introduced to an established pen of bucks during this time. Doing so will risk injury and death.

    Animals should be inspected frequently to monitor for obvious clinical signs of disease or injury and to assess body condition and hoof health. Any goat isolating or showing clinical signs of weight loss, limping, injury, or atypical behavior should be removed from the herd for further evaluation and treatment.

    Preventing disease is much less costly than curing disease, so preventive health care measures, such as vaccinations and hoof trimming, should be encouraged and practiced routinely. Producers should develop a herd health plan that addresses nutrition, parasite control, breeding selection criteria, disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Management practices such as conducting physical examinations and quarantining sick animals to minimize the introduction of infectious diseases, including lentiviral diseases, caseous lymphadenitis, and paratuberculosis, should be followed in both extensive and intensive systems.

    Although prevention of disease should be the aim of any producer, disease diagnosis should be encouraged as well. When possible, the death of any goat in a herd should be investigated, even through techniques as simple as gross field necropsy. In addition to disease diagnosis, tissue samples harvested postmortem can provide ancillary herd health information, such as in vivo mineral analysis.

    Large herds and producers in resource-rich countries often have access to technology-driven, expansive management programs and extensive private veterinary care. With diligence, though, herd management can be accomplished with tools as simple as pencil and paper. In smaller herds or herds in socioeconomic communities with fewer resources, the value of an individual animal may be much greater to a producer than would be a single animal in a herd of thousands. Producers can work with local or national agencies for information regarding herd health and management, especially if private veterinary care is not feasible. Herd improvement, particularly in poorer economies, may be limited; however, small management changes based on sound principles can improve herd heath in any situation.

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