Rare is the goat breeder who has never brought home a new goat to join the existing dairy herd. While there are some "closed" herds across the country which get new bloodlines only through the use of artificial insemination, many others rely on the occasional purchase of a new buck or doe to augment the current herd. Making a new goat purchase can be an exciting event. Knowing how to transition new animals into an established herd effectively can reduce the amount of stress for all animals involved, even the herd owner.
I learned a lot about bringing new dairy goats into the herd a few years ago when I purchased a pair of Nubian doelings from a breeder who was relocating out of the country. I already had five does of different breeds and had been looking for one more doe to add to my small herd. I agreed to purchase the two Nubians, as they had always been together and the owner wanted them to make their new home together.
Being new to the Nubian breed, I didn’t know what to expect when the goats arrived. The two young goats had traveled from a different state in the back seat of the breeder’s car, riding on laps of children. When the goats were unloaded from the car, I looked them over and brought them to a holding pen. I tried to cover all the bases by asking a lot of questions about their current feeding program, how they had been cared for, and what their worming and shot schedules had been.
All seemed to be well and the breeder and her family left. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize I still had a lot to learn about these new goats. For the first few days all the two new Nubian doelings wanted to do was blat. The noise was more than I, and the rest of my goat herd, was used to. The only time that they didn’t blat was when I was in the pen holding them. They were six months old at the time of purchase and I had been told they were weaned several months earlier.
I spent time online (computer interest lists) asking other Nubian breeders if it was characteristic of Nubians to blat all the time. I was reassured by veteran breeders that Nubians, as a breed, are well known for their repertoire of vocal skills.
Though I kept the doelings separate from my herd for several days for an observation and disease prevention period, I soon decided to integrate them into the older doe pen, thinking that perhaps they were crying because they missed being with other goats. I e-mailed the breeder to ask her if she knew why these goats might be blatting so much. She told me that they had been raised in their house, and pretty much had been lap goats living in their house most of their life.
A few more days passed and the goats weren’t any more settled than they were when they arrived. My older does would bully the Nubians around, taking hold of their long ears and butting them into corners. I think we were all frustrated with the noise. I separated the goats again, until I could figure out a better arrangement for them.
From that point, it took several months of round the clock feeding, vet supervised wormings and an overall health maintenance program to bring the Nubians up to the level that they needed to be. Learning more about the farm they came from, the two doelings had been nutritionally deprived for some time. Had I not been persistent in finding out how to meet the goats’ needs, they may not be alive today. Changes towards proper diet and management were stressful to them, but overall led to a more satisfying existence on all parts.
I share my experiences to illustrate to other breeders that bringing a new animal into a home herd environment is not as simple as opening a gate. Even the best-intended people can make mistakes that could ultimately end up doing more harm than good when looking at the big picture. In my situation, I was lucky. I was able to get my new Nubian doelings on a managed feeding program before they declined in health any further. I made mistakes simply because I didn’t know enough about the breed, and I purchased sight unseen animals.
Goats are sensitive animals that thrive on a consistent routine. When their routine is changed, they may stop eating, drinking or eliminating. As ruminants, they need to eat and keep their gut going all the time. Dramatic changes in temperature and elevation also effect how an animal will adapt to new surroundings.
Introducing new animals into an existing herd environment involves health considerations, housing and feeding considerations, and a period of adjustment for animals to acclimate to their new surroundings.
Assessing the overall health of an animal is a crucial part of the transition process. Animal health should be verified prior to purchase, although purchasing a goat sight unseen from Internet connections may prevent that from occurring. Up-to-date pictures are better than nothing, and many health factors can be determined in this manner.
The new goat should have a healthy appearance such as a glossy coat, clear eyes, appropriate amount of flesh, and no mucous discharge from the nose. Any signs of lameness or injury should be noted as well. The appearance of the goat is often a better indicator of the goat’s overall health than what has been written on paper or on the computer screen.
Visual inspection, while important, doesn’t always provide all of the necessary information needed about the health of a new animal. A good way to check for additional health problems like abscesses, ringworm, or defects is to get a "hands on" report by going over the entire animal when delivery or pick-up is made. It is important to check teeth (for age), gums and eye lids (good color indicates good health, paleness points to potential problems), and teats on both does and bucks for possible deformities. All this should be done before a final payment is made or transaction completed.
A reputable breeder should provide a health record of vaccinations, worming, and any other illnesses or treatments for each animal sold. If the animal has not been vaccinated recently, vaccinating at least two weeks before integrating it into the new herd is recommended. This gives the animal enough time to form antibodies from the vaccine. Keep in mind that withdrawal times vary, depending on the vaccinations, in case the new purchase is a doe in milk.
Isolating new animals until a full assessment can be conducted is important.
Housing and feeding considerations
Before the new goat is brought home, plans should be in place for housing and feeding considerations. A location close to the new owner’s house will provide opportunity for observation without intrusion. It is also important to have a "holding pen" away from the current herd to prevent distribution of diseases which may not yet be apparent. A two to three week holding time is generally long enough to determine if the newcomer is "safe" on most goat health issues.
The new goat will need a safe pen with adequate shelter. If only one goat is being transitioned, consider the fact that goats are herd animals and will be less stressed if they can at least see and hear the other goats. Resident dogs or herd protection animals can cause newly purchased goats a lot of stress if they don’t feel "safe" from these animals until they get used to them.
The newcomer(s) will need plenty of fresh water and food. If possible, keeping the feed ration similar to what has been fed by the previous owner will ease the nutritional transition time. New owners should monitor how much the goat is eating and drinking for the first few days to determine that he/she is not becoming dehydrated or stressed from the move.
Integrating new goats into herd
Integrating the new goat into a pen with the existing herd should be done in stages to reduce the amount of stress to the animal.
A less stressful way to begin the integration process involves introducing the new goat to one or two goats from the existing herd. I generally pick the most maternal goat to use as a buddy goat to a new animal. The animals will eat and sleep together for a week or so before turning them all into the herd setting.
Another method of integration is to put the new goat in an adjoining pen to the herd. The goats will probably smell each other, and maybe even challenge one other through the pen. This is very normal behavior as the goats get their pecking order or dominance/hierarchy straightened out.
Once the goats are all penned together, they may challenge each other further until dominance is determined. As long as the goats are not physically harming each other, it is best to let them settle these differences on their own.
The integration process for mature goats is similar to that of young goats. Kids should be paired up with another kid or group of kids or an older doe that is good with babies as soon as possible. This will give the kid a sense of security as well as a buddy to curl up with. This reduces the animal’s level of stress, and potential illness of the young goat.
Even after the new goat has been integrated into the herd, continued human observation is recommended for a few weeks to make sure it is eating, drinking, and eliminating normally. After a few weeks, the new goat will become part of the herd.
In the few years since I bought my two Nubian doelings, I have introduced several other new goats to the herd. Mistakes I learned from the Nubian experience taught me how to integrate other new animals without causing undo stress. My Nubians eventually adjusted and are now happy, healthy members of my current herd. Though it took me some time to get used to their unique habits, both are excellent producers and I am so glad they are part of my life and herd.