Goats have good legal protection against any treatment that causes unnecessary or unreasonable suffering. The Code of Welfare for Goats sets out the legal obligations for people who own or look after goats. If you don’t meet the minimum standards for providing and maintaining shelter, food, water, or management of goats, you could be prosecuted for an offence under the Animal Welfare Act. There are also a number of regulations that apply to tethering and transporting goats. The Code of Welfare for Goats also describes recommended best practices, to encourage higher standards of animal welfare. The Codes and the regulations are used by Animal Welfare Inspectors in MPI and the SPCA when they investigate complaints about the ill-treatment of goats. It has real clout.

We all know there can be some real welfare problems associated with goats – especially tethered goats, goats that suffer cold stress after shearing and thin goats. 

There are other welfare issues concerning goats too, many of them focused on dairy goats and housed goats..  The Code’s requirements for these goats will be outlined in Part Two of this two-part series.

What does the Code say about tethering?

The Code says that ideally goats should not be permanently tethered, because it denies them one of their basic needs – social contact.  However, if goats are to be temporarily tethered, they must be checked at least once every 12 hours, they must be placid and trained to the conditions, they must not be able to get into the path of vehicles and they must have sufficient food, shelter, water and social contact.  

The goat’s collar has to be the right size and fit for the goat and allow for normal breathing, panting and drinking. It can’t be too tight or too heavy to cause skin abrasions, cuts or swelling, or too loose that it can cause an injury. If the collar hurts the goat in these ways, you can be fined. As well, the tether must be an appropriate length and material to allow for normal breathing and drinking and keep them from being caught up on nearby objects and injured. The shelter for tethered goats is also important. Your goat must be able to access the shelter at any time, and it must be dry, shade them from the sun and rain, and protect them from extremes of heat and cold. If you don’t provide this type of shelter for tethered goats, you can be fined.

There are some types of goats that must not be tethered – these are goats that are sick, pregnant or lactating, and kids.

Until now there have been too many lonely neglected roadside goats, vulnerable to theft and attacks from dogs, and at risk of injury from cars.  The new Code should help to protect goats from this sort of fate.

What does the Code say about shelter and shearing?

The Code says goats must have enough shelter to reduce the risk of cold stress and it specifically states that this is a requirement for kidding does, hand-reared kids and newly shorn goats.

It also recognises the importance of a full belly to help prevent cold stress.  It says that all recently shorn goats must be given additional feed (especially hay which is a good heat producer in the rumen) as well as adequate shelter.

The Code says that where there is a risk of bad weather and goats are to be shorn, cover combs, lifters or blade shears must be used so that a short layer of fibre remains to provide insulation.  All goats can suffer in cold wet or windy weather because they have little or no fat under their skin and their coat is not waterproof.  However feral (cashmere) goats are particularly vulnerable to cold because they don’t grow fibre continuously like Angora goats or sheep.  The Code should help protect fibre goats from cold stress after shearing.

The Code recognises another common welfare problem with Angora goats - overgrown fleeces.  It says that goats must be shorn often enough to prevent a long fleece from causing problems such as dags, flystrike and heat stress.

What about thin goats?

The Code states that goats must receive sufficient food to prevent their body condition score from falling below 2 on a scale of 0 (emaciated) to 5 (obese). 

0 iis ‘emaciated’ (no internal or external fat and no muscle can be felt over loin, rump or pin bones)

1 is ‘poor’ (almost no muscle can be felt over loin, rump or pin bones). 

2 is ‘thin’ (bones of loin, rump and pin bones prominent but a little muscle to edges of transverse processes of backbone at loin and over rump and pins)

Any adult goat with a body condition score less than 2 must either be culled or given more food and/or appropriate treatment to improve its condition. 

What else?

A section on health emphasises that goats are particularly susceptible to internal worms and foot problems.  Those responsible for goats must be able to recognise ill-health or injury and must take steps to control, treat and prevent as appropriate. 

There is a great deal more in the Code too - about mustering, handling, restraint and hand-rearing, and about the need to prevent bullying of weaker goats by more dominant ones.  There are specific sections about the welfare of housed goats and dairy goats.

Although it sets standards for goat welfare that some will find surprisingly high, much of this Code reflects what most goat farmers are already doing – farming knowledgeably and conscientiously with genuine respect and concern for their goats.  Nevertheless even the most experienced farmers will find some useful nuggets of advice in this Code.

For information on the Code of Welfare for Goats, and guidance on the regulations for goats, you can check out www.mpi.govt.nz/animal-welfare