Vet on call: Are you farming goats or just keeping them?

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The shrinking land sizes are encouraging more people to keep goats because the animals require less space, feed less and are not labour-intensive, unlike cows.

I have lately been getting more enquiries on goat farming from practising and potential farmers from different parts of the country. Most of the farmers indicate they wish to keep the animals for meat or milk.

A few have indicated they intend to keep goats to sell for ceremonial functions such as dowry and family parties. I am aware of some farmers who already keep goats and Dorper sheep, which they sell at good prices.

Despite the heightened interest, a majority of those who enquire do not have adequate knowledge on goat farming. I always advise them that goat farming and goat keeping are miles apart.

Good goat farming means that the owner takes proper care of the animals and targets to achieve set objectives with them.

The objective could be self-satisfaction, such as farming the animals for show, economic reasons such as producing milk and meat for consumption and sale, selling breeding stock to other farmers, training other farmers and agro-tourism.


Serious goat farming calls for investment in knowledge on the animal, its production requirements and the market for goats and their products.

Goat keeping, on the other hand, is a hobby where the “farmer” has the animals, rarely understanding and providing their needs. Such animals mainly end up dying or sold without considering whether the owners make a profit or loss.

Unfortunately, most farmers are actually livestock keepers. When they sell their animals, they normally say they made money.

I normally say they actually get money but do not make money. In other words, they do not profit from selling the animals because they never keep records of income and expenditure on the livestock throughout the animals’ lives.

One area that leads to poor performance of goats is housing. Poor housing costs the farmer in many ways that I shall explain later. The simplest way to tell if goats are properly housed is to assess whether their hair coat is in its true colour.

Last week, I visited a farm in Machakos where the owner wanted me to find out why his goats were always getting sick. I found the goats in the field browsing but I could not even pick out some in the shrubbery a short distance away. Their hair coats ranged from dirty white to almost black.

The colour mix camouflaged them well in the bushes. Mind you these are white Galas that you can pick out in the bushes from kilometres away when in their normal snow-white colour.

Kamuti, the farm manager, said the goats had become soiled with their own dung despite their house having a raised slatted floor.

He was about three weeks old on the farm and he had found the goats all white when he reported for work. He had seen the animals change colour as the rains intensified. Kamuti attributed the soiling to the wet season due to increased intake of plant matter with high water content.

He argued that the goats, therefore, produced more wet dung and urinated frequently and in higher volume than in the dry season. Well, the logic was good but then the seasons would always be there. Furthermore, these animals and their predecessors had gone through other wet seasons and they had retained their colour.

As the goats were driven back to their enclosures surrounding the sleeping shed, I noticed many of them were coughing. A few had their behinds soiled with liquid dung, indicating they had diarrhoea.

I checked the various compartments of the goat house. All of them were still wet with retained dung and urine. The goat pellets, normally seen in a normal goat house, had been mushed into deep green to black dung.

This was the paint that had altered the hair coats of the goats. Attempts had been made to clean the slatted floor but most of the gaps in the slats were clogged with dung. There was also heavy smell of ammonia from decomposing urine.

Upon further inspecting the floor, I found many of the slats were tightly adjoined with no gap in between. Where there were gaps, they were not sufficient to allow free passage of goat droppings as was intended by having a raised floor.

I examined 10 of the coughing goats and found they had low grade pneumonia or inflamed airways. A few others had diarrhoea.

I treated the coughing goats with long-acting antibiotic injections and left antibiotic boluses to be given to those having diarrhoea.

I also advised Kamuti to give medicine for coccidiosis to the goats with diarrhoea. Finally, I explained to him the goats could not thrive well under the conditions in the house.

The house needed to be kept clean. You see, goats should be held in lots of similar age and size in compartments with sufficient space for each animal.

Currently, they were heavily congested. The congestion caused the mushing up of pellets to create dung that in turn blocked the gaps in the floor slats.

This resulted in retention of urine on the floor and creation of the slurry that coloured the goats when they lay down or mounted on each other.

In addition to the unappealing appearance of the goats, the animals were exposed to bacterial and coccidial infections because inevitably, they consumed the infectious agents from their soiled coats as they groomed themselves.

The heavy concentration of ammonia in the goat house irritated the eyes and airways, causing injury and stress. This encouraged the development of pneumonia.

Under these circumstances, the goats could not perform well because they used a lot of energy to fight diseases and stress instead of building their bodies.

In areas with medium to high rainfall, goat houses should be raised from the ground about 1 to 1.5 metres. The floor should be made of slats with gaps of about 25mm in between to allow goat droppings to fall to the ground and urine to fully drain off the floor. Each goat should have a space of 0.3 to 2.5 square metres depending on its size.

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