Goat production: Remind yourself of the basics of goat management

It’s that time of the year when the air is filled with the sound of young goats bleating for their mothers. Lambing season comes with extra work for the stockman who needs to keep his eyes on the flock and his mortalities down.

Raising healthy lambs has a lot to do with the condition of the mother. Check your does for udder problems and make sure their vaccinations are up to date. A fixed, predetermined breeding season makes management much easier because the shepherd knows when his does are due to lamb and he can plan his schedule accordingly.

Tagged animals make identification simple, unless the flock is small enough for the farmer to recognise every animal. Even so, ear tagging is pretty much a basic requirement of flock management. As farmers like to say: “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

Weigh lambs every 2 weeks with a cheap fish-weighing scale to check that they’re growing properly. The target weight to aim for is 1.5 kg a week (200 g/day). If they’re not growing, or if they lose weight, take immediate action and give them some creep feed.

In this dairy goat flock, young goats are taken away from their mothers for part of the day to get the milk up. They have a decent sized camp with a simple shelter erected, to keep off the worst weather.

If the animals lamb in a contained area, keep it clean and take out dung and afterbirths. Leave newborn lambs with their mothers for at least three days without disturbing them so that they can form a strong bond and get enough milk. The quality and quantity of the early milk is the foundation of the lamb’s future. A good start really does set the animal up for life.

Castrate young males early if they are to be kept with their mothers for more than three months to stop any possible breeding. There are a few methods for castration but the easiest way is to use castrator rings (a rubber ring generally obtainable from the local co-op) that cut off the blood supply to the scrotum and therefore the testes.

Weather extremes, in short periods of time, are bad for young animals making them more prone to respiratory infections. During spring temperatures often spike and fall quite dramatically; the cold, rainy conditions of the night before may disappear quite rapidly in the hot, humid morning. The immature immune systems of young animals may not have the capacity to fight infections.

Check the animals every day. There is no substitute for eyes on the flock. The more you do it, the better you get at picking up problems. If you notice signs of depression or listlessness, examine the affected animals closely and take action before they get sick and die.

Keep a record of what has been done and when it is done so that it is easy to check on later. Don’t be tempted to rely on your memory only. A good memory is an asset to any stock farmer but it can never be 100% reliable.

Like their lambs, these dairy goat ewes are staying out of the rising heat of the spring day. Confined animals must have shade, shelter and water at all times.

This season you may have 20 does and their lambs; next year you could be looking at 30 females and the following year the number could be up to 50. There comes a time when flock population just jumps and you can’t keep up – and goats tend to have multiple births which makes flock expansion faster.

A yearly programme of dosing, vaccinating, feeding and weaning helps the farmer keep things under control.

share this