This is a sort of melodramatic title for an issue that I feel needs to be addressed. When you deal with live animals, particularly with buying young live animals, there are an inherent set of risks that can cause injury, illness or death, even if the animal was well cared for prior to leaving the farm of origin. New buyers, with the help of comments on social media like, “A reputable breeder would have…” or “I would never sell an animal like that…” are often led to believe that anything less than a perfectly healthy animal for the first month has got to be the fault of the breeder they bought from. I want to set the record straight and say this: sometimes goat kids die. This is especially true if you are an inexperienced goat owner who may miss signs more experienced owners have learned–often through hard lessons–to notice.
Most of the time they don’t die, but they can get sick. Young kids have fragile systems. Moving is stressful on them and the resulting depressed immune system sometimes cannot fend off normal pathogens that would otherwise present no trouble. Let’s talk about some of the most common ailments you might find in a previously healthy, but recently moved, goat.
Coccidiosis in Goats
NC State has a good overview if you are unfamiliar with coccidiosis in goats. This is one of the most common ailments among young goats in my experience and it is most certainly exacerbated by wet spring conditions or major system stresses, such as moving or weaning.
Personally, we have had more experience with subclinical coccidiosis, which can be a great deal harder to detect for someone who hasn’t seen it before. If possible, getting to know the goats you are bringing home before they come home can help you become familiar with their behavior so that when they come home you’ll have a baseline by which to judge their current behavior. Goats, even when stressed, should be alert, active, playful and, for a few days at least, loudly expressing their displeasure with their new circumstances. A goat that is shivery, hunching, lying down a lot, disinterested in food or its surroundings and separating itself from the rest of the goats is an immediate cause for concern and should be examined either by an experienced goat person or vet. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms listed in the article above as well.
Some breeders will have practiced what is called “prevention” of coccidiosis by treating chemically for a few days prior to the move. This will reduce the current number of oocysts, but does not guarantee that a kid will not experience a bloom when it moves. Environmental factors at the new place can greatly contribute to coccidiosis. To that end, be sure you have a warm, dry, draft free shelter and accompanying dry run if possible. Some areas are seasonally wet, but if it is at all in your ability to provide a totally dry environment for your goats, it will be to their benefit.
We use an herbal mix that is quite similar to GI Soother from Fir Meadow. I put 1/4 cup of this herbal powder into approximately one pound of loose minerals and leave it out free choice for our goat kids starting as soon as they show interest in minerals and continuing on until we hit dry season. I recommend all of my buyers continue this process. We’ve seen large increases in consumption during rainy weather; the goats know what they need and will self medicate.
L-l-l-lice, the Dreaded Vermin
Maybe it’s the societal pressure about lice in children or some misunderstanding about the cause of lice in goats, but this is one area where I see the most judgment from generally well meaning members of online groups and message boards. Lice in goats is a pretty common annual trouble. Your goats don’t get lice because you don’t clean their pen weekly. They won’t get it because you’re a neglectful or bad owner. They get lice because goats get lice. That means sometimes you might buy a goat that comes with creepy crawly friends. It isn’t any breeders intent to send lice infested goats and most people I know are horrified if one escapes their notice when they send it to a new home. But I tell you what, if I hear one more, “A reputable breeder wouldn’t…” about lice…
While lice are a very common issue in winter and spring, there is hope and an easy way to manage it. Many people will use pour ons and dust to control lice through chemical means. We used permethrin dust for many years. Over the past couple, however, we’ve moved to a mineral based method of prevention I’m really quite pleased with: sulfur. You can read my entire lice protocol here, but essentially, lice like goats who are deficient in sulfur. Give them sulfur internally and externally and you will control lice.
This is a fairly uncommon–but still worthy of attention–cause of illness in newly moved goats. Here’s a fun little PowerPoint on pneumonia in sheep and goats. Watch for your goat to go off feed, act depressed, develop nasal discharge, cough and/or a fever. Pneumonia in goats is commonly treated with antibiotics. Generally, for new goat owners, this is the course of treatment I would recommend because it can quickly progress to death if not treated aggressively.
As an overall preventive, I will often treat new goats with a slurry made up of fresh garlic cloves blended in olive oil with 1-2 drops of oil of oregano for kids or 2-3 drops for adults. Blend/food process this fine, cut the tip off of a syringe to allow room for the larger particles to pass through and give this orally throughout the day for 3-4 days. If symptoms of pneumonia develop, seek experienced help immediately.
For the most part, goats are very hardy animals. We deal with illness rarely here. I’ve never lost a goat, young or old, from the stress of moving to our farm and I can’t remember ever having one of our kids die after moving to a new place. Though rare, illness can happen. This article is my hope of giving you something to look for in your newly acquired kids so you can act quickly should the rare illness occur.
Because environmental factors, feed, care routines and the experience of the new owners can all impact the health of goats, it is impossible to guarantee that a healthy goat on the day it leaves for its new home will remain a healthy goat when it arrives. If new buyers arm themselves with knowledge, seek advice from mentors and Internet groups, and are proactive in the care of their goats, most minor health issues that develop can stay that way – a minor nuisance.