Some of you keep your goats for their milk, either for home supply or as part of your farming business, and some of you choose to keep your goats indoors for some or all of the time, either for milking or perhaps to protect them from rough weather or to help control worms. If you do keep dairy goats and/or housed goats, you will know that there are some particular health and welfare problems that can be associated with these practices.

Here is some of the advice given in the Code of Welfare for Goats to help prevent these problems. The Code sets out the standards that are generally legally required of goat owners, whether they are farming one goat or a herd, and it outlines the ‘best practice’ we should all be aspiring to!

Dairy goats


  1. Intensively farmed goats must be inspected frequently before and after kidding to ensure that they are not experiencing difficulties.
  2. If any doe is having difficulty kidding and the stock handler is unable to resolve the problem, expert advice must be sought as soon as possible, or the animal humanely destroyed.
  3. Excessive traction must not be used to kid any doe.

With dairy goats perhaps more than other types of goats, there can be health and welfare problems associated with the parturition, in particular dystocia, mismothering, and weak kids. The Code emphasises the importance of having sufficient stockmen with appropriate experience to manage goats at this time, and it warns that interfering unnecessarily at parturition can result in the doe deserting her kid(s).

Hand-rearing and fostering

  1. Premature kids that are unlikely to survive and kids that have debilitating congenital defects must be humanely destroyed immediately.
  2. Kids must be handled and moved in a manner that minimises distress and avoids injury or suffering.
  3. Newborn kids must receive sufficient colostrum or a good quality commercial colostrum substitute.
  4. Hand-reared kids must be given suitable liquid feeds until the rumen has developed sufficiently to allow them to use solids as the sole feed source.

Among the recommended best practices also outlined in the Code with regard to both kidding and fostering kids are the need to have supplies of colostrum available before kidding begins, the need for close supervision, and for stock handlers to be patient and knowledgeable.

Lactating does and milking systems

  1. All does must be milked or suckle kids frequently enough during lactation to minimise discomfort and maintain udder health.
  2. Milking equipment must be well maintained to minimise the risk of damage and infection of the teats and udder.

Among the recommended best practices are specifics regarding the need to milk does within 12 hours of separation from their kids, and to milk or have their kids suckle at least once every 24 hours. The partial vacuum in the milking machine should not be higher than 40 kPa and the teat cup liners and the pulsation system should function properly.

Drying off

The Code emphasises that drying off should involve gradually reducing the amount of milk taken and regular monitoring to prevent discomfort and infection. Instead of feeding the doe less at this time to hasten drying off, the Code recommends feeding low-quality bulky diets ad-lib so that she does not go hungry.

Housed goats

  1. Goats must be able to lie down and rest comfortably and move about freely.
  2. Bedding must be comfortable.
  3. Goats must be inspected at least once a day.
  4. The goats must be kept at an equitable environmental temperature, the lighting good for at least 9 hours a day and the air in the house must be relatively fresh.
  5. Groups of goats must be compatible with no undue bullying.
  6. Goats must not be released from prolonged periods indoors without ready access to shelter and shade.

There is a specific recommendation that each goat has at least 3 sq m each and trough space of at least 40 cm each.

A nice touch is a recommendation that ‘toys’ be provided for environmental enrichment.

The Code also warns that since kids like to snuggle up together, there is a risk of smothering in big groups of hand-reared kids. To prevent this, corners of the pen need to be screened off and extra care is taken when heat sources such as a heat lamp are used.

Health of goats

  1. Those responsible for the welfare of goats must be competent at recognising ill-health or injury and any injured or ailing goat must be immediately treated by a knowledgeable and competent stock handler or be destroyed humanely
  2. A veterinarian must be consulted if there is any significant disease or injury or if an animal health problem persists in spite of treatment.

The last of these is particularly important because, as many of you will know to your cost, internal worms can be a big problem in dairy goats on pasture. It’s important to get veterinary advice because proper worm control is complicated by the following facts:

  1. goats don’t develop age-related resistance to goats as sheep and cattle do
  2. drench resistance has developed in some worm species
  3. treatment with anthelmintics is constrained by with-holding times (which require that meat and milk from treated animals is not used for human consumption for a period of time that may be as long as 35 days)
  4. goats metabolise anthelmintics faster than sheep

In addition, many anthelmintics are not licensed for use in goats and those that are may not be effective against the worms you are trying to get rid of and some anthelmintics have minerals added with the associated risk of poisoning (with selenium for example).

Foot scald and foot rot can be a problem in-housed goats, partly because of lack of wear and consequent overgrowth of horn. The Code reminds us that hoof trimming and footbaths with zinc or copper sulphate will help prevent problems.  

Bottom line

You will see from the above that as well as setting out legal requirements, the code of welfare for goats contains plenty of good common sense and practical advice to goat farmers about keeping their stock healthy and content. Check it out in full online at