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Basic Health Knowledge Contributes to a Healthy Goat Herd

By Roxanne McCoy & Jennifer Stultz

Goats are considered to be one of the healthiest and hardiest of domesticated animal species. If provided with the basic aspects of good health management, they can maintain and produce healthy offspring and milk. But in addition to providing the basic food, forage, shelter and environmental requirements, the good dairy goat manager must be acquainted with basic facts about goat health so they will know when something might be wrong.

Simply observing a goat during the natural course of its day will provide a base of normal behavior to fall back on. The normal goat is alert, enjoys eating a variety of foodstuffs, and is sociable and friendly. Signs of distress include grinding of teeth, anti-social behavior, limping, head hanging, loss of weight, rough hair coat, drippy eyes, nose, or a cough. These symptoms can all be indicative of health problems, and if noted, should be investigated further.

Knowing how to check temperature and heart rate is a good place to start before calling a veterinarian. Normal goat temperature is 101.5-104.0°F. This can vary with air temperature, exercise, excitement, and amount of hair. It might be a good idea to establish a herd norm for temperature by checking several goats under the same conditions and comparing the results. A goat’s temperature is checked rectally and an inexpensive digital thermometer, complete with directions for use, is available from most vet and/or goat supply catalogs.

In addition to temperature, it is a good idea to become familiar with the normal pulse and breathing rates of a goat, so in an emergency or ill-health situation, abnormal rates can be established. Normal pulse rate for an adult goat is 70 to 80 beats per minute. Respiration, or breathing rate is 12-20 breaths per minute. (Note: Kids have higher pulse and breathing rates than adults.)

There are two ways to check the pulse rate of a goat. One, place fingertips on both sides of the goat’s lower rib cage, and count the beats for one minute. Two, place a finger on the big artery on the upper inside part of one of the rear legs. Count the beats for one minute.

Since dairy goats are normally healthy animals, when they get sick it is because something in their feed, environment, or in some cases reproductive activity, is wrong. Treating the symptoms will help, but the underlying cause must be determined and removed in order for the goat to get back to its normally healthy state. By observing and knowing standard behavior and health norms, every dairy goat owner can establish a healthy herd.

Not every goat illness will be detectable and/or solvable by simple observation. It is always a good idea to establish a good working relationship with a local veterinarian. Even though some vets do not have a lot of experience working with dairy goats due to their low caprine population numbers (in certain areas) and naturally good health, most veterinarians still have an extensive background in animal diseases and most are very willing to discuss options and learn more as needed. It’s a good idea to start a professional relationship by engaging a vet for help with routine questions before an emergency crops up.

By starting with healthy goats and giving proper care, maintaining a healthy environment, and developing a good owner/veterinarian relationship, most goat breeders can attest to the fact that dairy goats are one of the healthiest, easy-to-care-for species of animals. But this doesn’t happen without proper observation and attention to details.

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