There are particular welfare issues associated with goats, because of their sensitive nature and inquisitive personalities! Compared with sheep and cattle they need much more protection from the elements because their fleeces are not as waterproof. They don't do particularly well on ryegrass and clover because they have evolved to browse a variety of pasture and shrubs. They are harder to contain and need hazard-free fences and yards. As well to these general goat welfare concerns, there are additional issues relating to Angoras, because they are horned, and they are usually shorn each year.
Angora goats produce fibre that is long and wavy, and it grows continuously like that of sheep. Goats of the dairy breeds (Saanen, Nubian) have hair coats like cattle or deer that remain short. Other types of goat-like ferals and cashmere types grow an undercoat of short dense fine hair each autumn, and this undercoat is shed each spring.
If an Angora goat is not shorn, its fleece becomes long and straggly, matted and uncomfortable, and it may even drag on the ground. In warm weather the goat will be hot; in wet weather, its fleece will become water-logged. In other words, there is a welfare problem. Indeed 'double-fleeced' angora goats are the subject of many animal welfare investigations by the SPCA each year.
As a general rule, Angora goats must be shorn twice a year.
Shearing is a worrying time for goats, because of the stresses of mustering, yarding and the shearing process itself. Skilful patient handlers and shearers make it much less of an ordeal for the goats and there will be fewer cuts and better quality fleeces as a result.
There are potential welfare issues after shearing because newly shorn goats have no insulation from bad weather. It takes weeks for an effective protective layer of fibre to re-grow. During this time they need extra feed so that they can produce internal heat to help keep them warm, and they must have access to effective shelter in the form of a shed or something similar to protect them from cold wet windy weather.
The feed requirements of Angora goats are discussed in detail later.
From a welfare point of view, however, it is worth making the point that Angora goats are not suitable for scrub control. The main reasons for this are:
- They are not as hardy as feral goats. They need effective shelter from wind and rain, and this may not be available on scrubland.
- They need a higher standard of nutrition than can be provided by scrubby vegetation alone, especially if they are young and growing or pregnant or lactating.
- Their fleeces are likely to become heavily contaminated by vegetable debris and they will downgrade their fleeces when they come to be shorn.
- They can become trapped if their fleece gets caught in brambles or gorse.
Angora goats need water especially in hot weather, when they are in full fleece and when they are pregnant or lactating.
The tethered goat is the subject of more animal welfare complaints to the SPCA and MPI than any other animal, and in many cases, it's an Angora goat or an Angora cross that is tethered.
Here are a few of the reasons why goats shouldn't be tethered:
- They need a sturdy hut to protect them from bad weather and a bucket of fresh water at all times. All too often these are not provided.
- Roadside grass is usually dirty and of poor quality so the goats don't get enough to eat.
- They are at risk of theft, and attack by dogs.
- They risk being caught in or even strangled by their tether.
- On dry gravel roads, they are blasted by dust every time a vehicle passes.
Good health is vital for good welfare, and most of the significant potential health problems for Angoras are discussed in the website's series of articles on "Angora goat health"
Footrot is a particular welfare concern because it's very painful and if not treated leads to permanent distortion of the feet and even arthritis in the joints of the foot.
It is particularly important with Angoras to keep their hooves trimmed whenever they start to become overgrown, and on problem farms, goats should be run into a footbath containing 10% zinc sulphate every few weeks or so, and allowed to stand in the footbath for 5 minutes each time.
Angora goats are not usually disbudded as kids as dairy goats are, and they are rarely dehorned as horned cattle are. While this means they aren't subjected to the pain and distress of disbudding or dehorning, there are some big welfare problems associated with "horned-ness".
Horned goats have a big social advantage over non-horned goats even if they are smaller because they can use their horns mercilessly to bully other goats and move up the social ladder. They can batter head-on, maybe even breaking legs or ribs, and if they have short horns that spread out from the head they can swipe sideways and inflict nasty penetrating wounds. Goats bully more when under stress so keep a look out for bullying when you mix strange goats or confine goats in a small space.
Entanglement by the horns is something to be constantly on the lookout for with Angoras. Their spreading horns can become entangled in wire, in trees, in fact in virtually any gap in their paddock.
If the trapped goat is not released it will die a horrible death, particularly if it becomes suspended off the ground or if it's caught in electric wire.
There are several common-sense steps you can take to prevent entanglement:
- Check to ensure there are no hazards like hurricane netting and if there are fix them or use electric outriggers to keep the goats away from them.
- If it's not properly installed, electric fences can be particularly dangerous, as you can imagine. Check that they are taut and functioning correctly and never use electric netting with Angoras.
- Check your goats frequently, especially if there are any hazards that you can't remove.
- The horns of goats that reach up into trees can become caught up in the branches so remove any forks in the branches that goats could reach.