Goat Health 2 – Maintaining Health & Fitness

Author: David Harwood BVetMed, MRCVS
Published: 2012


In the first bulletin, we emphasised the importance of knowing your goats and their normal behaviour before giving some indication on how to recognise signs of ill health.  We also considered your responsibilities under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 with reference to ensuring that you fulfil your goat's welfare needs.

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In this second bulletin, we're going to consider some of the fundamental principles to follow that should help to keep your goats fit and healthy - i.e. herd health preventative measures.  We'll cover these under a series of headings:

  • Biosecurity.
  • Quarantine
  • Environmental management.
  • Nutrition.
  • Prophylaxis - principally by vaccination.


Biosecurity can be defined as the prevention of disease causing agents entering or leaving any place where farm animals are present (or have been present recently).  It involves a number of measures and protocols designed to prevent these agents from entering or leaving a property and being spread.  The maintenance of a biosecure unit should be every goat keeper's aim - although in reality, such risks can never be reduced to zero!

Remember - biosecurity is a two way issue, not only can your goats be susceptible to an infectious agent coming from outside your unit and become ill as a result, but you could bring a healthy goat into your herd and that goat could become ill when it comes into contact with infectious agents carried by your goats (to which your goats are immune!)

It follows therefore - that it is important to keep a record of all illnesses that are confirmed in your goats, together with dates.  Individual health cards can be really useful if you have only a small herd.  Such information may be invaluable to your vet when faced with a problem, or when developing a goat herd health plan (discuss this with your vet).

There are 3 main routes whereby an infectious agent can enter your herd:

  • Via a purchased goat.
  • From other farm livestock on your premises or that come into contact with your goats.
  • Indirectly from equipment contaminated with material containing infectious agents (e.g. faeces / pus / saliva).
Via a purchased goat

No-one would purposely buy a sick and ailing goat, although such goats may be taken into rescue centres and animal sanctuaries.  Possible problems that can be brought in include mange, lice, caseous lymphadenitis (CLA), Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE), footrot, worms and a long list of other potentially infectious agents.  It is for this reason that we advocate the importance of quarantine (see later in this article).  Wherever possible inspect any goat before you buy it, and preferably see it with others on the same farm - do they all look fit and healthy?

You may consider asking your vet to check any new goats you buy - and one important reason for getting your vet involved is to check the goats CAE status (by taking a blood sample).  A purchased goat with CAE can look perfectly healthy, and may remain so for months or even years after purchase, but can result in a slow and insidious build up of CAE in a previously clean herd, potentially with disastrous consequences.

From other farm livestock

Goats are gregarious animals and will readily share a paddock / building with other farmed species particularly sheep (Fig 1).  There are a number of infectious agents that can spread between these species such as worms, footrot, CLA and infectious abortion agents such as EAE.  Bear this possibility in mind if a problem is identified in other species that have contact with your goats.  Other conditions such as coccidiosis are "host specific" so goats cannot catch coccidiosis from sheep or cattle or vice versa.  Don't forget purchased sheep can also introduce some infections onto your premises as can a goat (see previous paragraph).


Fig 1:  Goats and sheep running together
Indirect introduction of infection

Never underestimate this route, particularly if you have a smallholding and have to borrow equipment with which to handle your goats, or vehicles to transport them around.  Weigh crates (Fig 2) for example can become contaminated with pus from a discharging CLA abscess - the organism can remain active in this pus for many months, thus acting as a source of infection to your goats passing through it, and rubbing against its sides.


Fig 2: Ensure any equipment borrowed is thoroughly cleaned before use.

Faeces can harbour agents such as Salmonella, so weigh crates; trailer floors etc. should be clean.  Ensure such surfaces are visibly clean, and also consider applying a Defra approved disinfectant as a further biosecurity measure!  Borrowing drenching guns, tattoo equipment, foot shears and knives can also be risky - clean and disinfect these before use.


Quarantining incoming goats is an important consideration, particularly if you have a large number of goats within which introduced infection can quickly spread and escalate. This risk however is always present even for the hobby keeper with only a couple of goats; never underestimate the risk!  By placing an incoming goat in quarantine you are ensuring that if it is incubating or carrying any infection that develops after it arrives, it does so safely, and with minimal risk to your own goats.  An absolute minimum is 2 weeks, 3 - 4 weeks is better; even then some conditions such as CLA may take many weeks to develop visible abscesses.

It is important however not to place such goats in isolation.  Where possible make sure they are within the sight and sound of other goats for company, but not directly in nose to nose contact with them.  There is less of a need to keep goats in a separate airspace than for example cattle; there are no real airborne infections to which goats are susceptible.

Whilst in quarantine - ask your vet to take a blood sample to check the CAE status, and to check the goat over while they are there.  It is also important to discuss the possibility that incoming goats could be carrying resistant worms.  Parasites are covered in a later goat bulletin, but there are steps that can be taken to remove these, by an approach referred to as "quarantine drenching."  Your vet is able to advise the most appropriate approach, and may involve the use of new recently introduced products, or using two different wormers from the 3 main groups in combination.

Environmental Management

Goats are potentially at risk of picking up a number of problems from their environment, and these can be very varied:

Poisonous plants

Goats are browsing animals and as such are quite inquisitive as to what they eat.  Shrubs and trees to keep them away from include rhododendron, pieris (a garden shrub in the rhododendron family - Fig 3), yew, laburnum and laurel.


Fig 3:  Pieris a highly toxic shrub to goats



Fig 3a . Trimmed yew trees in a churchyard - could the clippings be available for your goat to eat
Liver fluke

If you have wet areas on your holding, remember that these can be a breeding ground for liver fluke as the mud snails they need to complete their life cycle can survive there.  Leaking water troughs can create an ideal habitat!


Some lameness problems can be related to poor conditions underfoot.  Keep concrete areas regularly swept, sharp stones can damage feet.  Watch out if you've been hedging - sharp thorns / fragments of hedge can get caught between the claws (Fig 4).  Constant wet / muddy conditions underfoot can predispose to scald and potentially lead to foot-rot.


Fig 4: sharp thorns or hedge fragments can get caught between the claws
Dusty buildings

During winter housing can lead to respiratory problems, be particularly careful with dusty / mouldy hay or straw bedding.

Other dangers

Sharp projections, old bits of wire or string lying around (can get caught up around legs), anything that an inquisitive goat can get its head caught in and potentially hang itself, electric cables - goats may chew through these etc.!


Your goats need a balanced and varied diet to ensure that they remain fit and healthy, allowing them to satisfy their browsing behaviour where possible.  Regularly handle your goats to assess their body condition, by placing your hand over their backbone or under the chest cavity over their sternum (see figs 5 and 6) - practice this on your own goats.  Do not allow them to get too fat or too thin.


Fig 5: Lumbar condition scoring


Fig 6:  Sternal condition scoring
Condition score targets:

Kidding: 3 - 3.5.

Weaning: no less than 2.0

Service: 3 - 3.5.

During pregnancy: 3.0

Many nutritional problems can be a result of making changes to a diet too quickly, if you are changing the goat's diet, or introducing something new, make sure you do it gradually over a few days.  The sudden introduction of a cereal or coarse mix (or if a goat breaks into a food store and helps itself to a feed) can lead to diarrhoea, and to rumen acidosis - this in turn can lead to enterotoxaemia particularly if the goat is not vaccinated.


This term refers to the use of preventative measures such as vaccination or strategic treatment regimes.  No two goat units are identical, and it follows therefore that such a programme will vary depending on the health status of the goats (and specifically which known health problems are present), whether the herd is closed and never buys in goats, whether it is expanding, whether it is a show herd regularly meeting with other goats etc.

Another problem your vet is faced with is a lack of licensed products (including vaccines) that are available for goats in the UK.

All goats kept in the UK are potentially susceptible to enterotoxaemia associated with Clostridium perfringens, and affected goats can die rapidly, or develop a painful gut problem passing blood, or a severe diarrhoea (Fig 7).


Fig 7:  This goat died as a result of enterotoxaemia, note severe diarrhoea

The organism is a normal inhabitant of the gut of many goats as part of the population of bacteria that help to digest food.  Numbers can multiply rapidly however in stressed goats or goats that have had a dietary upset - and disease can be very unpredictable.  It is for this reason that vets strongly recommend vaccination against this disease.   There are a number of clostridial vaccines available, but the "4 in 1" vaccine appears to give better protection - boosting every 6 months (and not every 12 months as recommended for other species).

As stated - other vaccines may be considered if the herd has suffered previous health problems, but not as a routine - discuss these measures with your vet when developing a herd health plan.

The use of wormers will be discussed in a subsequent bulletin.

Further information:

Goat Health and Welfare a Veterinary Guide (Crowood Press) - David Harwood MRCVS.

British Goat Society website:   http://www.allgoats.com


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