Common Herd Health Procedures

In the normal course of herd health management it will be necessary to perform different herd health procedures. Some of these procedures are performed to collect information on an animal's condition that can be relayed to a veterinarian. Others are needed in the course of disease prevention or treatment. A producer should only attempt those procedures in which they feel comfortable and sufficiently proficient so that no harm can come to the animal. If there is any doubt, consult a veterinarian. The most common procedures done by producers are listed below with a brief explanation of correct methods.

Taking temperature - rectal

The first procedure usually performed on an animal suspected to be ill is to take its temperature. In goats, this is performed rectally. Either a digital or mercury thermometer can be used. Plastic digital thermometers do not break and may be considered as safer to use than a mercury thermometer. A small amount of lubricant may be put on the thermometer and it should be inserted with a twisting motion. A normal goat's temperature should be 103 - 104°F (39 - 40°C).

Pulse or heart rate

There are several places on the goat where the pulse or heartbeat can be felt and measured. Heartbeat can be felt by placing one's fingertips between the ribs behind the elbow. Pulse can be measured using the femoral artery on the inside of the rear leg roughly 1/3 of the way down. Pulse may also be detected by placing the index and middle fingers on the artery located below and slightly inside of the jaw roughly two-thirds to the rear of the muzzle. A normal range is 70 to 90 beats per minute.


Respiration is detected by watching movement of the flank or chest. A normal range is 12 to 20 per minute.

Rumen movements

Adequate rumen function is essential for a goat's health. One sign of adequate function is regular ruminal movement. This can be detected by placing the hand on the left flank of the animal. If the rumen feels soft and water-filled this should be noted and reported to your veterinarian. Rumen contractions should be easily felt and should occur 1-2 times per minute.

Checking mucous membranes

Paleness of the mucous membranes in the mouth (gums), vagina and prepuce can be an indicator that the animal is in hypovolemic shock, meaning that there is a decrease in the blood volume circulating in the animal. The color of the conjunctiva around the eyes can be an indicator of anemia that could be caused by a heavy internal parasite burden. Roll down the lower eyelid to look at the color. A pale, whitish color indicates anemia. This color can be scored using the FAMACHA system which is described in the section on Parasites of Goats. Remember that irritation of any type causes membranes to turn red. This means that an anemic goat with pinkeye may still have red membranes.

Drenching and dosing

Drenching or dosing an animal entails the oral administration of a liquid. The obvious goal of this procedure is to ensure that the animal swallows the full amount given. Grasp the animal under the jaw to raise its head. Raising the head of the animal will assist in ensuring the liquid is swallowed. A finger or thumb can be put into the mouth where there are no teeth (goats lack canine teeth as do all ruminants) to assist in opening the mouth for the drenching equipment. Generally a bottle with a tube over the end or a drenching gun is used. Liquids should be given slowly to allow time for the animal to swallow. Dewormers must be given using appropriate drenching equipment ensuring that they are given over the back of the tongue and swallowed.

Tubing an animal

In some cases it may be necessary to pass a tube down the mouth directly into the stomach in order to administer a large volume of a liquid. This could also be used to feed a young animal incapable of nursing or to either sample rumen contents or insert rumen contents into an animal having severe digestive problems. The size of the tube passed should be appropriate for the animal's size. Generally, a ½ to ¾ inch (1 to 2 cm) diameter tube should be used for adult goats. A short metal or PVC pipe (speculum) larger in diameter than the tube to be inserted is placed in the mouth to prevent the goat from biting or chewing the plastic tube. Some people prefer to use a "Harp" speculum instead. The hard-sided tube or speculum is inserted into the mouth of the goat and holds their mouth open while you pass the tube. The plastic tube is then passed down the throat and into the stomach. Administer liquids slowly. Have a veterinarian or person trained in this technique instruct you before attempting it the first time.

The procedure for tubing a neonatal kid is similar to that for adult animals with a few distinctions. For kids, one does not need to use a PVC tube or speculum. The size tube used is smaller for baby goats (12 to 14 French or roughly ¼ inch inner diameter). The tube should be flexible without any hard edges to harm the kid's mouth or throat. Hold the kid's mouth open and pass the tube gently over the hump or base of the tongue at the back of the mouth and into the stomach.

There are some precautions to take in tubing an animal to ensure that liquids are not inadvertently administered into the lung. The first precaution is to always hold the goat's head in its normal flexed position. If you extend the head and throat, your tube has a straight shot down the trachea. When doing this, preferably have the goat standing. As the tube is inserted, watch and feel the throat area. The tube needs to enter the esophagus and not the trachea or windpipe. The esophagus is a smooth, flexible tube leading to the stomach and one can feel or see the stomach tube sliding downwards. The trachea is a rigid tube and the stomach tube can neither be seen nor felt from outside the animal. When the tube is in the esophagus, feel the bottom of the neck. You should feel "two tubes." One will be the trachea and the other will be the rigid tube inside the esophagus.

Another check can be done while midway down the trachea/esophagus is to suck on the end of the tube. If you are in the esophagus, it will collapse on the tube and you will create a vacuum. Alternatively, blow in the tube and you will see a bolus of air go down the esophagus. If using a stethoscope applied to the goat's rumen on the left side of the body, you will hear air bubbling. Sucking on the tube while it is in the rigid walled trachea will not create a vacuum. One can also check for the smell of rumen fluid to ensure correct placement. To ensure proper depth of penetration, place the tube along the outside of the animal stretching from the mouth to the last rib, a point that would be inside the stomach, and put a mark on the tube. Use this as a guide when inserting the tube. Never rely on the goat coughing as a guide to proper tube placement. It is not a reliable test.

Bolus administration - "Balling"

A "balling gun" is used to administration tablets or boluses to an animal. A balling gun has a holder for the tablet in the end and a plunger to expel the tablet into the throat. Large boluses should be lubricated with vegetable or mineral oil for easier swallowing. Pass the balling gun over the hump of the tongue and press the plunger while holding and tilting the goat's head upwards. Ensure the tablet is swallowed by holding the mouth shut. Stroking the throat can also elicit a swallowing reflex.

Be very gentle in placing the balling gun into the mouth and expelling the pill. The tissues of the throat are very delicate and pills and guns have sharp edges. This can result in serious damage to your goat or minimally a goat with a very sore throat that will not eat. Newer model balling guns have soft plastic heads that reduce the potential for injury.

Paste administration

Dewormers, rumen pastes, and the like may come in a tube and are given through the use of an instrument resembling a caulking gun. Hold the animal as described for "balling," insert the end of the tube into the mouth and squeeze the handle the correct number of "clicks" to deliver an appropriate dose. Again, holding the goat's mouth shut will assist in swallowing.

Giving injections

Administering drugs via injection is a common herd health procedure routinely practiced by almost all producers. Following proper guidelines for each type of injection and using proper equipment will ensure that injections are done correctly and inflict minimum stress on an animal. Proper sanitation will ensure that you don't inject bacteria into your goat and cause an infection. Dirty needles and syringes should never be used. Using needles and syringes on multiple animals can transmit disease. After making six to ten injections with a needle it will be dull and should be changed and disposed of properly.

Needle selection

Proper injection technique includes selection of an appropriate size syringe and needle. Syringes should have volume markers that would ensure administration of the correct amount of drug. Needle gauge should be considered as it relates to injection type and thickness or viscosity of drug. In general, 18 to 20 gauge needles (as gauge number increases, needle diameter decreases) are sufficient.

Recommended Needle Sizes and Lengths Used with Goats
Age Gauge Needle Length
Intramuscular injection Subcutaneous injection
< 4 weeks old 20 ½ inch ½ inch
4 to 16 weeks 20 5/8 to ¾ inch ½ inch
4 to 6 months 20 1 inch ½ inch
> 6 months 18 or 20 1 inch ½ inch

Proper Injection Sites

Live animals are considered unprocessed food, especially if those goats are intended for slaughter and later used in the food chain. Injection site lesions should be a major product quality concern for goat producers raising goats for meat. Injection-site defects are lesions or scars found in cuts of meat that result from tissue irritation caused by the administration of intramuscular or sometimes subcutaneous injections. In addition to the scarred tissue, tenderness of the meat is also significantly reduced in the affected area surrounding the site. Proper injection sites are described for each type of injection described.

Don't inject in red zone!

Common injection methods

The three most common injection methods are subcutaneous (SQ, under the skin), intramuscular (IM, in the muscle), and intravenous (IV, into a blood vessel, usually the jugular vein). Subcutaneous injections are the easiest to give and intravenous the most difficult. Whenever a drug or vaccine lists SQ as an option for injection use the SQ route. Only experienced personnel should attempt to give an intravenous injection and professional assistance should be used in most instances. Intravenous injections provide the fastest absorption of a drug by the animal while subcutaneous the slowest.

Preferred intramuscular zone

Preferred subcutaneous zone

Subcutaneous injections

To inject subcutaneously, pull up a pinch of skin making a tent. Insert the needle into the tent taking care not to pierce through the other side. Depress the plunger slowly. Injecting with the needle pointing towards the ground will lessen the likelihood of the material leaking out of the hole left by the needle. Massage the injected area. If administering large amounts of a drug, over 3 milliliters (ml or cc), it is best to divide the dose among two or more sites not giving more than 2 or 3 cc per site. The preferred site for SQ injections is the skin just behind the elbow, although they can also be given in the triangular area in front of the shoulders between the top and bottom of the shoulder blade and corner of the jaw. Vaccines often cause swellings or "knots" and a knot behind the elbow indicates an injection site whereas a knot in the neck in front of the shoulder could possibly be confused with a caseous lymphadenitis abscess.


An intramuscular injection calls for the needle to be inserted into a muscle. Intramuscular injections are commonly given in the triangular area of the neck, in front of the shoulder. Do not give intramuscular injections in the loin or hind leg of goats that are used for meat purposes to prevent injection site blemishes from occurring that lowers the value of the meat. Volume given in the muscle should not be more than 3 ml per site.

After inserting the needle, pull back on the plunger slightly to make sure a blood vessel has not been penetrated. Administer the drug slowly. If a blood vessel has been pierced, the needle can be withdrawn slightly, repositioned, and checked again. Never give an injection near the spine to prevent accidentally causing nerve damage.


An intravenous injection requires skill to locate a vein, usually the jugular vein in the neck, insert the needle, and ensure that the needle remains in the vessel while the drug is given. Prior to attempting this, it is best to receive training from a veterinarian. Animals may react quickly to drugs given in this fashion due to rapid absorption. Very few drugs need to be given intravenously; however, blood samples often need to be collected and the technique is the same. The easiest approach is to have someone straddle the goat to hold it securely. The holder will elevate the goat's head up and to the side. If you have clippers, clip all of the hair off the bottom third of the neck. Feel for the trachea on the neck and move towards the top of the neck. The area between the trachea and the muscles of the neck is the "jugular groove" and is where the jugular vein lies. Put pressure at the bottom of the groove and you will see the groove swell from your finger up to the jaw of the goat. The vein is now filled with blood. Using an 18 to 20 gauge needle, direct it at an angle of 45 degrees then stab through the skin. Pull back on your syringe and see if there is blood present. If not, adjust the depth (deeper or more shallow) or move up or down the side of the groove until blood is obtained.

When you are injecting drugs IV, it is important to ensure that all of the drug enters the vein. Give the drug slowly. The jugular vein will take the administered drug straight to the heart and at high concentrations many drugs can cause problems with the heart. IV drugs given around the vein instead of in the vein can cause an irritation or inflammation of the vein.

Minor Surgical Procedures


Males not wanted as replacement bucks should be castrated. Castration can be done by various means as early as between 2 to 4 weeks of age. There are several methods of castration and the method selected will depend upon the age of the animal. The most common methods are elastrator band, Burdizzo® or other clamp, or surgical methods. General sanitation and vaccination precautions should be followed. Additional information on castration procedures can be found in the Meat Goat Management chapter.

Some producers may delay castration until bucks are 2 to 3 months of age. This may lessen the incidence of urinary calculi or bladder stones (see the Goat Diseases chapter) in animals on a high grain or concentrate diet. Also, remember that intact bucks have high levels of testosterone which acts as a growth promotant and stimulates the production of lean muscle mass. Many goat meat consumers that eat young goats do not care if the meat comes from intact or castrated males. There are some ethnic markets that actually prefer meat from mature bucks. Know the market in your area. The point being that if it is not necessary to castrate goats for marketing purposes, then don't. However for breeding purposes realize that some bucks are fertile and ready to breed by 3 months of age and unwanted males should be castrated or separated from fertile females. In most climates photoperiod effects keep this from being a practical problem until kids are 9 to 12 months of age. In general, castration at an early age is the normal practice to reduce shock to the animal. Older animals should receive some type of anesthesia prior to castration and a veterinarian consulted.


Most meat goat producers will elect not to dehorn their goats. If the decision is made to raise goats without horns then kids should be disbudded in the first two weeks of life. Buck kid horns grow faster than doe horns. Some large single buck kids should be disbudded within the first week after birth. Disbudding a buck kid is the true test of proficiency of the person doing the dehorning and many fail, judging by the number of scurs seen on adult bucks. If you try to disbud a buck kid whose horn base is wider than a regular disbudding iron, you will get regrowth of the horn in a crown outside the burned area. If you try to disbud a small kid with a wide calf dehorner, you may get regrowth of the horn from the center of the ring. If one person is doing the job, a disbudding box offers the best and safest restraining device. Approximate dimensions are given the accompanying illustration.

The use of a local anesthetic is commonly advocated; however, the actual technique is not easy and the baby goat will scream while being held in preparation for a ring block or a cornual nerve block. One week old kids are small animals and cannot be given large doses of lidocaine or toxicity will result. A one week old kid should get no more then 1 cc total of lidocaine. One technique used is to dilute the lidocaine with distilled water allowing a larger volume to be injected into the locations shown below. Have a veterinarian administer the anesthetic or train you in the procedure.

Veterinarians typically use systemic anesthetics to anesthetize the goat for dehorning. The commonly used drugs are xylazine (Rompun) and ketamine (Vetalar). These can only be administered by a veterinarian.

The disbudding equipment most commonly used is an electric-heated metal rod with a hollowed-out end. Newer cordless, butane gas powered dehorners are available. Some disbudding irons have problems in maintaining a constant temperature, and it is extremely important to match temperature and time. Under-burning of the horn bud will result in scurs while over-burning will lead to brain damage or death. The horn buds can generally be felt in young kids to ensure proper location to burn. After the disbudding iron is hot, apply it firmly over the horn area and rock it around slowly for 3.5 to 4 seconds. Remove the iron and repeat if necessary and do the other side. Evaluate the success of the procedure by its appearance. The goal is to have the area look like "chrome tanned leather". Black color represents burned hair and is indicative of inadequate burning. Clipping the site prior to burning will eliminate the problem of burned hair. Scent glands are located near the base of the horn and descenting could be done at the same time if desired. Inject the kids with 150 IU tetanus antitoxin. Although the risk of tetanus after disbudding is not great, it is a good practice to administer tetanus antitoxin.

An alternate disbudding method is the use of a caustic paste. The hair around the horn bud should be clipped and the paste applied. A ring of petroleum jelly around the horn bud may help prevent the paste from burning other skin tissue. Caustic paste sounds more benign than burning horn tissue; however, the paste has a bad habit of causing chemical burns on other parts of the goat or on his/her pen mates. To use caustic paste make sure that the kid is kept by itself so that it doesn't rub the chemical on the udder of its mother or the faces of its friends (not practical with most meat goat kids) and that it is kept out of the rain so that rain water doesn't wash the chemical into the goat's eyes.

Lancing abscesses

Goats get a variety of swellings or "knots" at various locations on their bodies. Some of these are cysts (fluid filled structures) and some of these are abscesses (puss filled structures). There is a disease of goats called caseous lymphadenitis (CL) that causes abscesses in the lymph nodes of goats. See the section on infectious diseases of goats for more details.

Doe with CL abscess on right jaw.

One way of speeding the healing of an abscessed goat and of containing all of the infectious material from the abscesses is to lance it. This is usually a very simple and safe procedure. The first thing to do is be patient. Wait until the abscess comes to a "head." This is when the abscess is attached to the skin and the hair has begun to come off at the top of the abscess. The center of the abscess will soften. At this point, there are no vital blood vessels or other structures between the puss in the abscess and the outside of the goat.

Since pus is infectious to other animals and humans, wear gloves when performing this procedure. Remove any remaining hair from the region. Scrub the area with disinfectant soap (Betadine Scrub ) and restrain the goat. If this is done correctly it is not a painful procedure for the goat. Take a pinch of skin in the center of the abscess with your gloved hand or a surgical tool (such as a towel clamp) and stab a scalpel or sharp, sterilized knife blade deeply into the abscess and cut out a circle of skin. Just slashing the abscess may allow the cut to seal over before the abscess has healed from the inside out. There will be some white, or greenish white, odorless puss come out of hole created in the abscess. Catch it in a disposable bag and dispose of it where other goats can't get into it. Caseous lymphadenitis is a contagious disease. It is also a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted to humans, so wear gloves and sanitize your hands and equipment used after this procedure.

After lancing the abscess flush the area with diluted Betadine Solution (10:1, 10 parts water to 1 part solution) to flush out any residual puss or bacteria. Make sure you keep the goat away from other goats until the lesion has completely healed.

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