If you’ve ever owned goats, you know just how hard it can be to keep these little guys healthy sometimes! On occasion it can seem like they are constantly trying to fall over dead. Which, if you’ve spent anytime around horses, it feels like they might have taken some bad advice from their equine friends. Regardless, there are some things you can do to care for your goats that will encourage overall herd health.
What can you do to encourage optimal herd health?
- Proper nutrition & clean water
- Trim hooves on a regular basis
- Practice pasture rotation
- Keep facilities clean
- Don’t overbreed
- Know your herd
Proper nutrition and clean water:
As with any animal, having adequate nutrition and clean water are imperative in your care for goats!
Water needs to be free of manure and other debris. If using a large stock tank, it can be hard to thoroughly clean it on a regular basis.
What I always found helpful was skimming the debris off the surface of the water, and, once every couple weeks dumping the whole thing and scrubbing it out.
You also want to be aware of insect larva, specifically mosquito larva. Some people find it helpful to keep goldfish in their large stock tanks to help eat the larva.
I’ve personally never tried this, but know several people who swear by it’s results!
Nutrition is a little less cut and dry in terms of specifics across the board. That’s because nutrient needs vary based on age, weight, stage of production, etc.
There’s just a lot of factors that play in to your goats’ nutrition needs.
The key is to make sure they are receiving a proper balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals (just like us)! There are a lot of resources out there on proper nutrition for each stage of growth and production.
That said, in general, it is important to remember that young animals and pregnant/lactating animals will have higher nutritional needs than animals on maintenance, without extra external (or internal) energy demands.
Trim hooves on a regular basis:
Hoof trimming is an important part of care of goats, and something that needs done on a fairly regular basis.
You will have to be the judge of exactly when they need it, as it will vary from herd to herd and season to season. In general, the wetter it is, the more frequently you will need to trim their hooves.
Animals that have extremely overgrown hooves are prone to harbor harmful bacteria that can cause the hoof to slough off and rot.
No one wants to deal with that!
The best way to ensure your animals don’t get hoof rot is to regularly trim their hooves and try to provide some type of dry location for them to bed down.
The more often they are in boggy, wet ground the more likely they are to pick up nasty bugs that can cause hoof damage.
Vaccines are generally considered a good idea when it comes to care for goats because it bolsters their immune system to fight off specific infections.
While there are a lot of vaccinations that people have been known to give goats ‘off label,’ the main one generally used (and isn’t off label!) is CD/T. I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to utilizing vaccines that aren’t approved in goats, and, as a result, avoid them all together.
While there has been some consideration for not vaccinating at all, in the 8 years I raised goats I did vaccinate with a CD/T.
The important thing when it comes to vaccinations is to make sure you administer it at the correct time and booster it in appropriate intervals to ensure proper immunization.
At the end of the day, it is always a good idea to do your own research and consult with a veterinarian before utilizing any vaccines for your goats!
Practice pasture rotation:
One of the biggest things that threatens the health of your goats are intestinal worms, specifically barber pole worms. Animals get infected by ingesting the larva of immature worms.
These larva can live in the environment (i.e. pasture) for about 6 months on average according to a study by Ohio State University. However, there are some that can survive for up to a year.
The best way to keep infection rates down is to rotationally graze your goats. By having a multiplicity of sections you can move your herd to allows for two things.
First, it keeps the animals from overgrazing, and eating the pasture down to the ground. This helps prevent infestation because the worm larvae tends to reside closer to the base of plants.
While this is not a fool proof method, it definitely helps keep infection rates lower. Not to mention, this is also healthier for your pasture. 🙂
Two, when allowed to free range on a whole pasture, goats, like other livestock, will find a specific area full of plants they like and return to it again and again.
This continual grazing of one area results in a buildup of manure, which is where the barber pole larva originates to begin with.
The more feces in an area, the more likely your goats will become infected. So, by rotational grazing, you are constantly moving the animals and keeping exposure to potentially infected feces at a minimum.
Keep facilities clean:
Cleanness of facilities is always a must! While nothing is ever spotlessly clean when it comes to the homestead, having your goats’ shelter/pens as clean as possible is always a good idea.
The dirtier the environment, the more likely it is to harbor bacteria and all other manner of infectious organisms that just want to make your herd sick.
For both indoor shelters as well as outdoor runs or pens, keeping the litter clean and manure managed is super important. A particular method gaining more traction within the homesteading world is the deep litter method.
The main premise of this method is to continually add new layers of bedding on top of the old, letting the old compost in place before removing it and utilizing it elsewhere on the homestead.
The animals are always exposed to the new, clean bedding, while the old is kept covered underneath.
Another method you could utilize is mucking out on a regular basis. Some people frown on this as not being an efficient way of keeping things clean, but I did it for years and had good results.
While it might not be the most efficacious method of keeping your facilities clean, you are at least removing soiled bedding and bringing in clean.
This is also a somewhat controversial topic among livestock circles when it comes to care for goats and other animals.
In modern agricultural practices, it is somewhat common to maximize reproductive efficiency and breed your animals back as quickly as possible after they’ve kidded. While that is a feasible way to go about production, it’s not very healthy for your females.
They need a period of time to rest and recover after kidding before they are rebred.
If you just rebreed right away, you will markedly decrease the longevity of your does and increase the risk of kidding issues in both mama and baby.
Does need a period of time after kidding to rebuild their bodily stores of nutrients and recover from the energy loss from kidding and nursing their last batch of kids.
Know your herd:
Probably the most important way you can care for your goats, improving their overall health is to just pay attention and spend time with them.
The more you become familiar with how your herd acts on a regular basis the quicker you’ll be able to catch signs when something is off.
A lot of people find that spending an extra couple of minutes a day when they go out to feed and water their herd is a great way to check on their health.
It really doesn’t cost a lot of extra energy on your part, just good observation skills and a few extra minutes of your time each day.
It’s really kind of relaxing and cathartic to watch goats do their goaty thing!
Wrapping it up:
While proper care for goats can seem kind of intuitive, it is important to make sure you are doing a good job in order to obtain optimal health for your herd!
We’d love to hear your tips and tricks for caring for your goat herd!
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