Herd Health and Management
Herd Health Management Program for Goats
S. Mobini, DVM
Agricultural Research Station, Fort Valley State University, Fort Valley, GA 31030-3298
Herd health management programs attempt to organize all information applicable to goat herd health into a simple, usable, and easily remembered format. The goal of the program is to improve the herd's productivity through general husbandry, nutrition management, parasite control, vaccination, and environmental management. Careful recordkeeping must be done to monitor the program's progress.
Regarding general husbandry, it is important to feed goats the appropriate rations and provide shelter against rain and dampness. The goat's hooves must be trimmed regularly to prevent the overgrowth that leads to foot rot and other foot problems. Goats should be fenced out of wet, marshy areas for proper foot care.
Wethers being fed grain are subject to urinary calculi, which are potentially fatal. Feeding ammonium chloride along with grain may help prevent formation of calculi. A constant source of fresh water is necessary for all goats.
All breeding-age animals must be tested for brucellosis and tuberculosis annually. Although it is not necessary for a veterinarian to perform all procedures, a herd health program becomes more effective when a veterinarian's advice and services are used regularly.
Each goat herd is unique and requires a program to suit individual herd needs. This article attempts to give some guidelines that can be used to develop a herd health program.
Late Pregnancy and Dry Does
Does in late pregnancy should be allowed a 40- to 60-day dry period to regain condition lost during lactation, to allow the mammary glands to rest, and to prepare the doe for kidding as well as the next lactation. Does bred at 70 to 110 days should be examined for pregnancy before drying off. At drying off, all udders should be treated with dry-cow mastitis antibiotics. This treatment is very important, because many udder infections begin during the first several weeks of the dry period. Teats should be dipped for at least five days after drying off.
The dry period is an ideal time to deworm the goats. Internal parasites increase activity during late pregnancy and can be eliminated if the does are dewormed during the dry period. Goats should be dewormed at breeding and two weeks before kidding; goats should also be examined for such external parasites as lice and treated if any are found.
Late pregnancy is the recommended time to give the yearly vaccination boosters that are used in the herd. The vaccine will both protect the doe and ensure high levels of antibodies in the colostrum, which will subsequently protect the newborn kid. I recommend at least a five-way Clostridium vaccine (C. perfringens types C and D, C. chauvoei,, C. novye, C. septicum, and C. sordellii) along with a tetanus booster three weeks before kidding.
The doe must be kept in proper body condition (i.e., not too fat or too thin). Over-conditioning predisposes pregnant does to such metabolic problems as pregnancy toxemia. This disorder is often fatal to both the doe and the unborn kid.
Kidding Does and Kids
The doe must be given adequate exercise until the time for kidding is very near. When kidding is about to occur, the doe should be confined in a clean maternity pen. The doe's udder and soiled hindquarters must be washed after kidding. The doe can be assisted in the cleaning and drying of the kids. The navels of the newborn kids must immediately be dipped in tincture of iodine. Kids should nurse within one hour of birth for maximum protection against disease.
In herds affected with caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE), the kids must immediately be separated from their mothers to prevent suckling; they are then fed two to three ounces of pasteurized goat colostrum or cow colostrum. If no one can be present at kidding, the doe's teats must be taped to prevent nursing. Placenta and discharges should be removed as the doe expels them; the doe must also be prevented from eating such discharges because they can cause indigestion. All kids must be examined for navel infection; if needed, the navels should be retreated with tincture of iodine. All kids must be checked for congenital abnormalities.
A disbudding iron is used to disbud Swiss breeds at four days of age and Nubians at seven to ten days of age. Male kids are castrated at the same time, and extra teats are removed. If the doe is not vaccinated at drying time, the kids are given the Clostridium-tetanus vaccine at one to three weeks of age. Otherwise kids can receive the vaccine when they are between one and two months of age and receive a booster two weeks later.
All goats in the herd should receive yearly booster vaccinations. Kids are dewormed at three to four weeks of age with such drugs as fenbendazole and ivermectin and again at three months of age, depending on housing conditions. Management practices dictate whether kids are treated for Coccidia during weaning or two to three weeks later.
Kids must be examined for intestinal parasites one month after weaning. Buck kids and doe kids must be separated by three months of age. Polled kids should be rechecked for any genital abnormalities. Feet must be trimmed before kids are turned out. Kids are susceptible to polioencephalomalacia, which is caused by thiamine deficiency. Deficiency of this vitamin should be a primary diagnostic differential for any kid with neurologic signs, such as blindness or opisthotonos.
Bucks are given vaccines and parasite treatments at the same time as other animals in the herd. Bucks must be given plenty of exercise. Feet must be trimmed at least four times yearly. Before the breeding season, bucks must have adequate body condition and should be examined for genital abnormalities.
There is little doubt that parasitism, either directly or indirectly, is the leading cause of death among goats - especially animals younger than six months of age. Removing goats from their normal dry, tropical habitat to humid, temperate regions has greatly affected the normal relationship between goats and internal parasites.
Stomach Worms The most important internal parasite of goats, the stomach worm (Haemonchus contortus), is prevalent throughout the southern United States. This worm is able to survive for prolonged periods of cold, hot, and dry conditions. Kids younger than six months of age, which may be concentrated during weaning and confined into small lots or pasture, are especially at risk, as are older goats kept in large numbers on a small pasture.
Goats infected with stomach worms demonstrate such signs as dullness, weakness, bottle jaw, poor appetite, loss of weight, soft stool, possible diarrhea, recumbency, and death. Because these parasites suck blood from the stomach wall, the goats also become anemic. A definitive diagnosis should be made after microscopic examination of feces.
Prevention, rather than cure, should be the philosophy used in developing control and treatment programs against gastrointestinal worms. It must be assumed that the worms cannot be totally eradicated but can be limited to the extent that they will not cause economic loss for the producer. Clinically ill animals represent only a small part of the true economic impact of parasites. Attention must also be given to subclinical disease, in which animals do not show apparent signs, but fail to gain weight. A combination of treatment and management is necessary to achieve control of parasites.
A regular program of deworming is essential for parasite control. Rotating anthelmintics at regular intervals in order to prevent parasite resistance is recommended. Thiabendazole is the only approved anthelmintic for goats but unfortunately is not very effective because of parasite resistance to the drug. Thiabendazole has also been associated with polioencephalomalacia in some breeds of goats.
Because of a lack of many approved products for use in goats, most anthelmintics are used off-label. The following products should be considered: fenbendazole two to three times the label dose for cattle; ivermectin at 1 ml/88 pounds of body weight (1% cattle injectable may be administered orally, which will prevent abscess formation at injection sites); and levamisole as a drench or injection according to label specifications for cattle. A veterinarian should be consulted for advice on methods to avoid drug residue.
Other worms can affect goats. Such worms include lungworms (Mullerius capillaris) and intestinal worms (Trichostrongylus species). These worms are fairly common and are responsible for many young and adult animals being unable to maintain good condition.
Coccidiosis is a contagious disease of goats, especially young kids. In young animals, signs similar to those caused by stomach worms may be seen. Coccidiosis is greatly overlooked on many farms where deworming is directed only at traditional parasites and where programs of checking the feces for Coccidia are not in place. The classical signs of coccidiosis are most obvious in young kids and include diarrhea, severe weakness, and sometimes bloody stools. Also, Coccidia tend to predispose young animals to pneumonia.
Coccidia in young kids are generally acquired from adult animals that shed the parasites from feces into the pens and yards. Although coccidiosis is typically a disease of young, growing kids, most adults are mildly infected and will continuously shed oocysts that infect young kids. Diagnosis can be based on clinical signs or microscopic fecal examinations. Coccidiosis should be suspected when kids older than two weeks of age have scours. Older kids and adults with diarrhea may have worms, coccidiosis, or both.
Preventing coccidiosis in the herd is very important if young kids are to thrive. As soon as diarrhea has developed, most damage to the intestinal wall has occurred. A variety of drugs, including sulfa drugs and amprolium, may be given orally to treat sick kids. Monensin in the feed has also been used as prophylactic medication.
Attention to the many facets of goat husbandry is crucial to the overall health of the herd. The technician must be in tune with the various factors that affect the health of kids, does, and bucks. Nutritional and housing factors must be considered. Parasite prevention and control should also play an important role in the husbandry of goats. In this regard, the technician should be aware of the various types and dose regimens of currently available antheimintics that are effective for control of parasites in goats.
Bliss EL: Herd health program, in Haenlein FW, Ace DL (eds): Extension Goat Handbook. Washington, DC, USDA Extension Service, 1984, pp G-1, 1-3.
Bradley RE: Stomach worms, in Haenlein FW, Ace DL (eds): Extension Goat Handbook. Washington, DC, USDA Extension Service, 1984, pp G-5, 1-3.
Bretzlaff K: Production medicine and health programs for goats, in Howard JL (ed): Current Veterinary Therapy-Food Animal Practice. Philadelphia, WB Saunders Co, 1993, pp 162-167.
Dunn P: The Goatkeeper's Veterinary Book. Suffolk, Farming Press Limited, 1982, pp 84-98.
Guss SB: Management and Diseases of Dairy Goats. Scottsdale, AZ, Dairy Goat Journal Publishing Corporation, 1977, pp 143-158,201-205.
Smith MC: Coccidiosis, in Haenlein FW, Ace DL (eds): Extension Goat Handbook. Washington, DC, USDA Extension Service, 1984, pp G-6, 1-4.
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