This last part in our series on dairy goats considers the keeping of one or two pet goats of a dairy breed. Hand-reared pet kids can be useful on the lifestyle block to help with weed control, but often they end up being tethered by the roadside and this article discusses some of the pros and cons of this.
Finally, we cap off the series by outlining an animal health programme listing some of the things you can do to help prevent disease in your goats.
Pet kids are often sourced from dairy goat farms where male kids have little value, and they can make very good pets. For hand-rearing as pets, kids should be at least 7 days old and they should have been fed colostrum to ensure a good start to life. They should have been disbudded and castrated before they are taken from the source farm and the wounds should have healed. These procedures are described in detail in Part 7 of this series.
In practice most commercial dairy goat farmers want their male kids away before they are a week old, so you may have to book well ahead to order one, and make sure you ask that it be disbudded and castrated before you get it.
The kids can be fed milk substitutes, and commercial goat milk powder is available for this purpose. This is described in Part 2 of this series. Feeding commercial goat milk powder tends to be expensive, but if the directions are followed, it ensures a healthy well-grown kid that should make a good pet goat.
A word of warning for the owners of pet kids. Don't let them browse garden plants that might be poisonous, like rhododendron. Too many pet goats have suffered horrible deaths as a result of being allowed to graze around the lawn.
Many pet goats end up being tethered by the roadside for much of their life. This is not good for the goat. Tethered goats are usually lonely, vulnerable and inadequately fed, watered and sheltered. It is not recommended that your goat be permanently tethered and when tethered, you should check your goat’s shelter, tether and collar regularly. Since they are often right beside public roads, It's not surprising that they are the subject of more animal welfare complaints than just about anything else.
- Goats are social animals and they like the company of other goats, so the tethered goat is lonely.
- Tethered goats are often thin, even when it seems to you and me that there is plenty of pasture on offer. Roadside pasture is often dusty, oily and rank, so it's unpalatable to them.
- They need water and that can be hard to provide because water containers are likely to be knocked over. You can be fined if you don’t provide water to a tethered goat.
- They are often inadequately sheltered from wind, rain and sun. They must be given a shelter to protect them, but often any shelter provided is inadequate or very dirty. helters must be dry, and protect goats from the sun and rain, and from the extremes of heat and cold. You can be fined if you don’t provide this sort of shelter for your tethered goat.
- Take care in selecting and sizing your goat’s collar. It should be the right size and fit for your goat, and allow for normal breathing, panting and drinking. It should not be so tight or heavy to cause abrasion, cuts or swelling, and not so loose that it can cause an injury. You can be fined if you have a tethered goat with a poorly fitted collar that causes these sorts of problems for your goat.
- Take care in how you tether your goat, to ensure that the tether is an appropriate length and material that allows for normal breathing, panting and drinking, and to ensure they don’t get caught up. You can be fined if your tether causes these sorts of problems for your goat.
- On top of all that, tethered goats are vulnerable - they can be hit by vehicles, attacked by dogs or vandals, strangled by their tether, and sometimes they are stolen.
If a goat is to be tethered, it should be very tame, preferably hand-reared, and it should be given a lot of attention. All in all, it's far better for owner and goat alike if it is given the run of a paddock like the rest of the livestock.
Animal health programme
There are a few routine procedures that will help prevent disease problems, and it pays to keep a calendar to remind you what needs to be done and to make a note of what is done and when. There is no one programme to suit all farms, but you could use the following comments to help you devise a programme of your own.
It's important to control worms in the intestine and stomach by pasture management and strategic drenching. Inadequate worm control leads to ill-thrift and scouring, but over-drenching is a waste of money and can encourage resistance to the drenching in some of the worms. It is a very complicated subject, and it's discussed in more detail in Part 6 of this series.
Regular hoof paring (about once every 4 to 6 months or when the horn begins to curl under the toes) followed by foot baths in 10% zinc sulphate will help to prevent foot rot.
Pregnant does should usually be given supplements of selenium and iodine, but it's best to discuss the pros and cons of this with your vet. Supplementation of selenium-deficient does will prevent white muscle disease (a killer of young kids) but too much can be toxic. Supplementation with iodine will prevent goitre in the kids. Overdosing is not usually a problem with iodine but the best form of supplementation is a long-lasting iodine injection by a veterinarian.
Mineralised salt should be available, either as loose salt in a container or in a salt block, placed where it will stay clean and dry.
Clostridial diseases are not common in goats but vaccination is wise, as it is for sheep, and the same regime can be followed. This means a full course of two injections 2 to 4 weeks apart and an annual booster after that. The kids of fully vaccinated does are protected via antibodies in their mother's colostrum for up to 12 weeks, so they can be vaccinated after that. If the dam has not been vaccinated, they can be given their full vaccinations when a month or two old. Where the doe's status isn't certain, you can vaccinate kids a few weeks old and then vaccinate them again after weaning with the full two-shot course.
If you have Johne's disease in your goats, it might be wise to vaccinate your kids when they are a few weeks old. The pros and cons are discussed in more detail in Part 6.
The bottom line
Dairy goats have been bred for thousands of years to be placid and productive and they can be very useful animals on the lifestyle farm. Like all other livestock, they are easy to farm, but it's not necessarily easy to farm them well. We hope this series has helped make your dairy goat farming pleasurable and trouble-free.