The trouble with goats…

I love having goats on our homestead.  I love the spring babies, I enjoy milking the mama goats and I really enjoy using the milk to make cheese and soap. However, goats can be a bit of trouble in a variety of ways and I want you to be prepared.  It’s best to know the good, the bad and the scary!IMG_20160330_091218677

I never want to mislead you with the “be a homesteader” magazine cover stories…you know the ones…where the owners are sipping tea in their Adirondack chairs with all the barns mucked, the animals perky and clean (there is never any poop in these photos…isn’t that just amazing!), the pastures are covered with perfect square bales and the garden beds are in straight rows producing abundantly with nary a weed in sight! I firmly believe that 682 people probably worked for 5 days to create that one photo…which only lasted 7.2 seconds!

So let’s talk about keeping goats on your homestead.  I’ll dispel some myths and hopefully share some useful information that will help you in your own goat keeping adventures…and believe me it will be an adventure!

Goats will not eat every thing.  Although you need to keep trash out of your goat pasture, the cartoon versions of goats eating tin cans, old boots etc. are just silly. In 15 years of having goats, none of them have eaten anything weird. They will, however, get into grain and eat themselves to death…literally. They will eat until they bloat and if you don’t know what to do at that point (quickly call a vet if you don’t!) they will most likely die. It is very important that grain is kept in a locked room or locked can that goats can not worm their way into. And they are famous for being able to get into just about everything!  They can use their lips and tongue like fingers…you just won’t believe what we have seen over the years!

Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis also known as CAE is a retrovirus that passes from mother to kid at birth or during the exchange of body fluids – like nursing. A retrovirus can actually insert itself into the DNA making it hard for the immune system to find it. When a goat kid is infected, encephalitis develops with very little warning which causes seizures that can quickly kill the little one. Adult goats can have no symptoms at all…however when it does present, the symptoms are knobby swollen knees that are very painful. Their udders can become hard even when they aren’t in milk.  Their milk productions will decrease up to 25% and they can also develop pneumonia.

Once a goat is infected with CAE that goat is infected for life.

When I first began keeping goats CAE was considered zoonotic – something that could be transfered to humans through contact with bodily fluids… such as drinking unpasturized milk from an infected animal.  Now I read that there is no proof that it can be spread to humans. Interesting….I think I will error on the side of caution and continue to act as if it is possible.

There is no treatment for CAE so your best course of action is preventative.  We drink our goat milk raw (no pasturization) so this is very important! To do this, I started with a breeder that had 15 years of blood tests showing negative results in their entire herd. It is possible to have false negatives however I felt comfortable that with 15 years of testing behind them, the results were bound to be accurate. Goats must be at least 8 months old to be tested.  There is only one lab that I recommend for testing and that is WADDL – Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab at Washington State University.

Another thing I do to prevent CAE in our herd is to keep a closed herd.  I don’t bring new goats in very frequently and I don’t loan bucks out or allow them to be used for stud service.  I don’t travel with our goats and I don’t show our goats. No goats are allowed to visit our homestead. All sales are final.  Once they leave our homestead, they do not return. Once our herd arrived, it only changed by new births each spring.  Every few years, I will return to our original place of purchase to buy a new buck. If you come to visit and you have your own homestead with animals, you will have to walk through a bleach/water solution to visit our barn. If you have goats, you probably won’t be visiting our barn. It’s just not worth the risk.

When I began my search for goats, I could not find a herd locally that was not infected.  Or perhaps they had goats but had never had any of them tested. I finally found a breeder on the coast of North Carolina. I am sure there are others, but be prepared to travel to find  healthy goats to start your herd.

Next time we’ll talk about Caseous Lymphadenitis.

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