How do you know when one of your goats are ill?
Knowing how to detect health issues before they become an emergency requires implementing a few easy things to do whilst doing your daily barn chores.
Knowing your goat herd's basic behaviors and what they tend to do when everyone is healthy, will help you determine any possible upsets within your herd when an animal is "off" or ill.
Here are seven suggestions to make basic health checks on your herd to help determine if you need to look closer.
1. Observation of your herd. Observation is key - knowing what constitutes "normal" behaviors and tendencies of your individual goats will help you determine if further attention may be required. At feeding time, stand back and watch each one of your animals. Make sure each animal is actually eating. Lack of appetite may be an indication of the onset of a metabolic or infectious disease in your goat.
2. Careful visual inspection of each animal at feeding time or milking time will allow you to evaluate and assess each animal on an individual basis. Look at their rear end for signs of loose stools, their hair for dandruff and/or signs of parasites. Goats exhibiting sparseness of hair could have a mineral deficiency. Are they standing normal? Is their gate or walk normal as they run to the feed trough? Are they alert? Are their eyes clear or is there a discharge or tearing of the eye? Do their ears look normal? Do they have a runny nose?
3. Walk slowly and cautiously through your herd of goats and watch to see if they respond differently than they normally respond to you. Do they respond slower than normal? Do they not respond at all? Do they look at you? Do they have a delayed response to your approach?
Is the animal off by itself away from the rest of their herd mates?
4. Watch the goats while they are ruminating or chewing their cud. Are they chewing their cud? Do they look relaxed or are they nervous acting?
5. Look at the ground for fresh goat berries while doing chores. Are they normal looking or are they clumped or is there a full-blown case of diarrhea within the herd? Fecal consistency may vary with feed sources, amounts of feed or may be caused by certain parasites.
6. Are there any funky or foul smells not normally present? Smells can help with detecting illness like an external infection or possible foot rot.
7. Watch and observe a goats respiration rate. Are they breathing normal or is it exaggerated breathing? Goats that are hot will have an elevated respiration rate to help cool themselves.
Activity levels can affect respiration and in turn, may have an elevated temperature. Goats may have a higher respiration rate or temperature if they sense a predator or even the family dog running in the area so again, observation of the animal and surroundings is key for assessment of a goats heath.
Knowing how the goats act at different times, at different temperatures/seasons and under different activities will help you determine if you need to zone in to determine if a closer, hands on examination and or possible quarantine is needed if an individual goat is acting off.
It's easier to look over the does while they are on the milk stand and given the once over but during other times of the year, that may not always be possible. Bucks can be challenging to get on the milk stand but we find it is a lot easier to trim their feet, vaccinate and give a general health check when on a stand.
If you suspect a goat is not feeling well or has something going on, give them a "hands on" examination to check for any exterior signs of illness and quarantine them from the herd. Then proceed with their temperature, respiration rate, FAMACHA score, and have a fecal exam done.
Having a relationship with a veterinarian is an important piece of the puzzle to maintain a healthy herd. Having a relationship intact prior to having an issue is key. Having a baseline a vet can refer to will help them provide you with some direction.