Dairy goat herd health program

Guidelines for establishing a comprehensive herd health program for goats. Presents management basics for pregnant does, freshening and kid care, yearling doe and buck care and adult doe and buck care.

Overall Goals

The goal of a herd health program is to improve the herd’s overall health and comfort and therefore improve productivity. An established herd health program allows the herd owner to have an organized routine and management practices in place. This is accomplished through sound nutrition, reproduction management and disease and parasite control. It is essential to keep good records to evaluate the success of your herd health program. Additionally, a veterinarian or consultant can easily look for ways to improve efficiency or performance of your program.

Each herd is different and requires that the program be tailored around the needs and goals of that herd. The following are guidelines that can be used to develop a successful herd health program.

Late Pregnancy and Early Dry Period Doe Care

The late pregnancy and dry period are very important to the success of the herd and many aspects of the health program. The pregnant doe should have a 40 to 60 day dry period to regain condition lost during lactation and allow the mammary glands to rest. Some believe that a resting period is not necessary for dairy goats. At drying off, treat both halves of the udder with dry cow mastitis antibiotics, using the same dose as recommended for cows. This is important even if the udder was healthy during the last lactation. Many new udder infections begin during the first several weeks of the dry period. Even though the goats are not being actively milked during this time, it is recommended to dip teats daily with an approved teat dip until milk production has stopped and the udder starts to decrease in size.

The dry period is an ideal time to plan to deworm and hoof trim. Internal parasites experience increased activity during late pregnancy and more parasites can be eliminated if the doe is dewormed during this time period. Parasite control during the dry period will help prevent excessive levels of parasite exposure for newborns as well as the doe. It is also important to check and treat any external parasites (lice, ticks or fly eggs) if found. Hoof trimming is very important to the mobility and comfort of the doe. By trimming the hooves during the dry period, less stress is placed on the doe when it is time to freshen. Late pregnancy is also an ideal time to give yearly booster shots of vaccines utilized in the herd. The vaccines give protection to the doe as well as ensure high levels of antibodies in the doe’s colostrum for protection of the newborn kids. The vaccines used depend upon the problems and needs within each herd. The most common vaccines would be enterotoxemia (also known as overeating disease: caused by Clostridium perfringens types C and D), and tetanus. In regions where other clostridial diseases are common, a 7-way clostridial vaccine plus tetanus toxoid may be used. If this is not labeled for goats, consult your veterinarian for extra label usage.

In certain parts of the world, the soil is deficient in selenium. If this is the case, additional selenium and Vitamin E may be given during late pregnancy. This will provide the doe sufficient levels for her needs and prevent white muscle disease in the developing kids. It is necessary to consult your veterinarian if injectable selenium/Vitamin products are more conducive to your farm’s needs.

Nutritionally, the dry period is a critical time. During the dry period, the doe should maintain her condition and weight. However, her metabolic and physiological needs are demanding as the doe prepares for the next lactation. The developing fetuses grow rapidly during the last several weeks of pregnancy, as do the metabolic demands on the doe. A common problem seen during the dry period is over conditioning of the doe. Over conditioning places excessive stress on the heavily pregnant doe and predisposes her to serious metabolic problems, such as ketosis. The excessive abdominal fat and pregnant uterus reduce the capacity of the doe’s rumen which prevents her from consuming enough feed to meet her metabolic needs as well as those of the rapidly growing fetuses. Subsequently, the doe begins to use her fat reserves to meet her metabolic needs and may develop ketosis (also known as pregnancy toxemia). It is important during the early dry period to provide good quality roughage to supply the dry doe’s metabolic needs while ensuring an active, normally functioning rumen. Two to three weeks before freshening, her metabolic needs change dramatically and the doe requires more concentrated forms of energy, such as grain in addition to the good quality forage.

Freshening Doe and Newborn Kid Care

A clean kidding (freshening) area will help prevent any post-kidding complications such as uterine infections, retained placentas, mastitis, and problems in the newborn kids. Dip the newborns’ navels in 7 percent iodine solution as soon as possible to prevent navel infections and complications that occur with these infections. Dip the navels again 12 hours after birth. Make sure the newborns receive colostrum as soon as possible after birth. It is best to hand feed the first 3 to 4 ounces of colostrum to ensure adequate levels in the kids. Examine newborns for abnormalities such as atresia ani (lack of anus or rectum), cleft palates and intersexes.

If mycoplasma or caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) is a concern in your herd, feed heat treated colostrum (133 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes) to your newborn kids. It is also important to be present at the birth of the kids to prevent the doe from cleaning the kids off and to keep the kids from nursing the doe. This will decrease the exposure of the virus from doe to kid. The kids then must be fed milk replacer or pasteurized milk until weaned. The kids should be permanently separated from the infected adult herd. Identification of infected animals can be determined through routine blood sampling.

During the first 2 weeks, the kids should be disbudded and tattooed. When disbudding, the kids should be given tetanus antitoxin, selenium and vitamin E (in deficient areas). The kids should be vaccinated at 1, 2 and 6 months of age with the clostridial vaccines used in the herd.

Parasite control begins at birth and a well managed, clean environment is essential for parasite control. Anthelmintics alone cannot overcome a severely contaminated area. Coccidiostats and anthelmintics can be utilized but it is important to follow the label instructions. External parasites, such as lice and mites, are often overlooked but can be as devastating to young, growing animals as internal parasites. Routine examination and treatment are important.

Proper nutrition for young, growing kids is very important. It is important to follow the growth rates of growing kids to achieve adequate size at specific ages. Excellent nutrition will aid in maximizing the expression of their genetic potential.

Yearling Does and Bucks

Growing yearlings should be trim, sleek and active. Does and bucks should be separated at 3 months of age to prevent accidental early pregnancies. Monitor the success of the parasite control program with routine fecal egg counts and use anthelmintics as necessary. Vaccination boosters and routine hoof trimming are essential for a strong yearling herd.

Adult Does and Bucks

Nutritionally, feed to production needs with emphasis placed on quality fiber and protein concentrates. Disease control programs for herd problems such as abscesses, CAE, and Johne’s disease consist of routine testing, vaccinating and /or culling.

Mastitis is best prevented by careful milking procedures and proper milking equipment. Teat dipping after milking and a clean environment, free of obstructions can aid in prevention of injury to the udder.

Since most goat operations have seasonal breeding programs, make sure that the bucks are ready and have the proper condition before breeding season. Routine hoof trimming is important for good feet and leg condition.


An established herd health maintenance program will provide a dairy goat herd with a solid foundation for performance.

Related Links:

Maryland Small Ruminant Page

International Goat Association