Goat Health 4 - Responsible Goat Keeping

Author: David Harwood BVetMed, MRCVS
Published: 2012


Keeping goats can be great fun and very rewarding, and previous bulletins have given information on how to ensure that you fulfil your goat's welfare needs under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, how you can keep your goat healthy, and how to recognise some of the signs of ill health.

This bulletin will consider some of the other issues that the conscientious goat keeper must be aware of.

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Goats are Farm Animals

No matter why you keep your goats, whether for pleasure or profit - they are all classed as farm animals (Fig 1) - and as such are subject to a number of important rules and regulations in the UK.



Fig 1:  Even pet Pygmy Goats are classed as farm animals (Image courtesy of British Goat Society).

Before moving goats to your holding you need to apply for a County Parish Holding (CPH) number for the land where the goats will be kept.  Your veterinary surgeon can help you make contact with the correct authority, as this will vary depending on where you live in the UK.  Once you have your CPH number you need to obtain an AML1 movement form from your Local Authority before you can move the goats to your holding.  Animal Health offices of the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) will also register your stock and send you a registration document containing your personal details, CPH number and a unique Defra flock/herd mark. Livestock must be registered with Animal Health within 30 days of arrival onto the premises.

Individual goats must be identified for traceability purposes, and this is particularly important if they leave the premises and move around the country, particularly if there is an outbreak of notifiable disease to which goats are susceptible e.g. foot and mouth disease or TB.



Fig 2:   There are many different types of ear tags available, find the most suitable for your goats, and learn how to place them safely and cleanly in the ear.

There are a number of different ear tags available (Fig 2), ensure that you know how and where to place a tag in the ear, ensuring that the procedure is carried cleanly.  Problems can occur if the procedure is not carried out correctly, or the wrong tag is used (Fig 3).


Fig 3:  A septic ear tag reaction.

Every goat keeper should maintain a permanent record of any movements of goats onto and off their premises. The exact requirements are complex, but are summarised in an on-line Defra document (see further information at the end of this bulletin.

Medicines for Goats

Goats in the UK are classified as a minor species (compared to for example cattle or sheep) because UK goat numbers are very low by comparison.  As a result, there are very few medicines with a marketing authorisation (i.e. licensed) for use in goats in the UK.  As an example, we currently have no antibiotic, wormer, anaesthetic, ectoparasiticide (a product for controlling lice and mange) - all of which may need to be used in your goats.  It can therefore be very difficult for your vet to decide which product to use as a result, and they will most probably select the most suitable product to, by application of the "medicines cascade."  This effectively gives your vet the choice of using a product with a marketing authorisation in the UK for another closely associated species such as cattle or sheep, based on their knowledge of its efficacy in other species - and this is perfectly legal.

The lack of a licence however, does raise some important issues:

1.  With no efficacy data to back up the use of a specific product in goats, we may not know what dose to administer.  On most occasions, your vet will use the equivalent cattle or sheep dose, but we know for example that we need to increase the dose rate for certain wormers (see linked bulletin), so it is equally possible that some adjustments may need to be made to ensure maximum effectiveness with other products, but the evidence is simply not available.

2.  The uptake via a specific route of administration may be different in the goat - e.g., the skin thickness, hair type and lanolin content of goat skin is quite different to that of cattle, so the response may be far less predictable.

3.  The lack of a marketing authorisation will also mean that there is no data on meat or milk withhold times in goats.  Thus even if a product has a nil milk withhold time in cattle, we must always apply the standard withhold of 7 days for milk and 28 days for meat if used in a goat.  If a product states that it cannot be used in lactating animals (cattle and sheep) however this would also apply to a goat.

Your vet is best able to advise you on which products to use together with necessary withhold times.  Also discuss with your vet the need to keep a medicines record for your goats - it is an important document for all goat keepers to maintain.

All goat keepers should have a simple plan worked out with their vet for the safe storage, use and disposal of veterinary medicines prescribed or purchased for use in their goats.  It is important for example to be aware of expiry dates; whether or not a product can be kept at room temperature or in the fridge (if stored incorrectly, the product may deteriorate, and even become capable of causing a bad reaction in your goat).

Ensure where possible that you have an accurate goat weight to calculate the dose of medication you require - goats are heavier than they look, and their weight is often underestimated (Fig 4).


Fig 4:   A weigh crate - try to get an accurate weight for your goat if you are calculating a medicine  dose rate to give.

Make sure your calculations are correct when working out the actual dose (don't mix pounds with kilograms for example).

If you are administering the product, ensure that you know exactly what to do, if you are unsure, ask your vet to show you, or ask a more experienced stockperson.

There are a number of routes of administration that can be used; these will vary from product to product, so always read the instruction (Fig 5).


Fig 5:   Always read the data sheet contained in the packaging of all veterinary medicines.

Oral administration (by mouth)


The most common medicines given this way are mainly wormers in liquid form.  Be aware that certain wormers have the same name regardless of whether they are given by mouth or by injection, and it is vitally important that you check the correct route of administration by reading the label.

If you have only a small number of goats to treat it is probably not worth buying a drenching gun, using old syringes that have been cleaned out offers a useful alternative.  Having worked out the dose of drench to be given (usually from the weight of the goat), fill either your syringe or drenching gun with the correct dose.  A drenching gun is particularly useful because it can be preset to give exactly the same dose to a number of goats, which will save time having to measure each one out individually.  If you are using a drenching gun be particularly careful to ensure that it is maintained correctly and kept in good working order.  The shape and design of the nozzle is important, and if this is bent or damaged you may cause injury to the soft tissue around the throat whilst dosing (Fig 6).


Fig 6:    Ensure your drenching gun delivers the correct amount, is well maintained and has not been bent out of shape.

When drenching goats hold them gently but firmly, the head should be held securely with one hand cupped under the lower jaw.  The head should then be gently tilted up a little, the nozzle of the gun then inserted into the mouth onto the back of the tongue and the dose given by pressing the plunger.  If you are using a syringe then this can be pushed into the corner of the mouth (again while the head is held slightly up), and the contents then squirted out.  Be careful not to get it between the back teeth of the goat, as it will end up in splinters!


Some medicines come in solid form as either boluses or capsules, and these should be administered using a gun supplied by the manufacturer.  This is usually a long hard plastic tube with a plunger, the bolus being placed at the end of the tube that is then gently pushed to the back of the mouth and the plunger depressed.  With experience you will be able to tell if the goat has swallowed the bolus, but keep a careful watch for a few minutes in case it is spat out on the floor.

If a tablet has to be given without the aid of a gun, it is very important to protect your fingers, the teeth of a goat can be very sharp and cause severe damage.  The safest approach is to put your thumb in the front of the mouth, (there are no top teeth), and press up on the dental pad, and the mouth should then open.  The tablet can now be placed on the back of the tongue, the mouth held closed and then hope that the animal swallows the tablet!


Many medicines including most vaccines and antibiotics are given by injection.  Watch out for training courses at local agricultural colleges (usually for sheep or cattle), and try and attend a training course before you attempt to inject your own goats.  Alternatively, ask your vet to demonstrate the procedure.

There are several different routes for injections and it is important that you read the instructions to know which route you should be using for any particular medicine.  Also make sure that you are using the correct size of syringe and needle.  Needles are measured by gauge (g), the higher the gauge - the thinner the needle (Fig 7).  Always use clean needles and if you drop one discard it.


Fig 7:   There are many different bore needles, ensure you use the right one for the product you are administering, the site of injection and age of goat.
Intramuscular Injection

This is an injection given into a muscle mass, the most common sites are:

  • The neck muscles
  • The hind limb muscles

Be aware that there are some large nerves running through the muscle masses in the hind limbs, and it is advisable to inject into the muscle at the front of the limb rather than the muscle at the back of the limb where it is possible that you may hit the sciatic nerve.

Needles to Use - For kids, a 21 g, 5/8in needle (green cover) is suitable, but as the muscle masses in very young kids are very small, it is probably best to avoid intramuscular injections, using oral medication or subcutaneous injection instead.

For adult goats, a 19 g, 1in needle (yellow cover) is usually adequate although if the injection material is very thick you may need a larger needle and your vet will advise.

Be warned that if you are using dirty needles, or are injecting through a dirty skin, then a subcutaneous injection abscess can develop.

Subcutaneous Injection

These are injections given under the skin, and are commonly used in goats for vaccines and injectable wormers.  The 2 main sites used for injection are either on the side of the neck, or on the side of the chest.  Under certain circumstances, vaccine can also be given in the subcutaneous tissue over the lower front part of the chest.

The skin should be lifted into a "tent" and the needle inserted into the space between the 2 edges of skin.  Be careful not to push the needle right through the other side.

Similar size needles can be used as described under intramuscular injection.

Again problems can develop from injection site abscesses if either a dirty needle is used or the injection is made through dirty skin.  Remember also that some products (particularly vaccines) can result in a localised abscess, which appears to be a reaction to the adjuvant (vehicle) in which the vaccine is suspended.

Intravenous Injection

This when a product is given directly into a vein (using the jugular vein) and this is a skilled job and should only be undertaken by your veterinary surgeon (or in consultation with your veterinary surgeon).

Adverse Reaction

There is a reporting scheme for any adverse reaction to a veterinary medicinal product that your vet will be aware of.  If you feel that a product has caused an unexpected reaction in your goat (such as a lump at the site of injection, allergic reactions such as a swollen face, or lack of efficacy) - then ensure that you discuss this with your vet, who in turn will report this to the relevant authority if it is considered a valid concern.


Further information:

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

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

Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS Manual) - www.scops.org.uk/index.php


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