General Herd Health Considerations

An obvious key to a successful meat goat operation is having a healthy, productive herd. Herd health can be affected by a number of factors including genetics, environment, nutrition, and management, among others. The purchase of healthy animals and the provision of a healthy environment with proper nutrition, sanitation, biosecurity measures, and preventative health care are necessary in establishing and maintaining a healthy herd. However, goats can be affected by a variety of diseases and no matter how diligently one follows a strict herd health regime, from time to time animals will become ill.

The onus of detecting sick animals or animals undergoing nutritional or other stress falls on the owner or caretaker and can only be accomplished by daily observation. The producer should observe unrestrained animals in order to learn how his animals look and behave in a normal manner. This includes general appearance and movement, normal behavior patterns, fecal consistency, eating behavior, teeth, body parts, etc. Any deviation from a goat's "normal" appearance and behavior should be cause for concern and further investigation. When an animal does become ill, it is important to identify that particular animal with the aim of trying to determine what course of action should be taken.

When illness does occur consider that it may be a herd health problem rather than an individual animal problem. This is because goats tend to stay close to one another which can promote the spread of any infectious condition. The following steps can assist you in dealing with a potential disease outbreak.

  • Isolate any affected animals.
  • Determine if the condition is a single occurrence or the start of a bigger problem.
  • Check all animals carefully to identify sick ones.
  • Contact your veterinarian to limit loss. It is important to have a prior relationship with a veterinarian. If a veterinarian understands your operation he/she can be of help in preventing problems as well as treating diseases.

If death occurs, submit the goat to your local veterinarian for a post-mortem exam or take appropriate tissues from the animal for diagnosis at a state or other laboratory facility. A post-mortem exam may be more useful in determining the cause of a disease than examining live animals. The results of such an exam may yield an accurate disease diagnosis and allow for proper treatment to begin immediately. It is important to keep the body of a dead animal cool with ice or refrigeration until the examination can be performed. Freezing the carcass will make microscopic evaluation impossible.

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