Boer Goat Guide 3




About Marc MacDonald

I’ve been raising goats for nearly 20 years now. Over those years, I accumulated a lot of information about goats and what works and what doesn’t.

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Boer Goat Profit Guide

Boer Goat Profits Guide-Section 3

Keeping Your Boer Goats Healthy

22. What are the most common Boer goat health problems?

Veterinarians who work on Boer goats are very familiar with Boer goat health problems. Always consult your veterinarian regarding your goat’s health.

Although Boer goats are usually tough and hearty, there are a few health problems that can mean disaster for your flock and your business – if you don’t recognize them and deal with them properly.

The two most common health problems encountered by goat owners are parasites and foot rot. These diseases and a few others are described below.

ParasitesBoer goats are more sensitive to parasite infections than other breeds of meat goats. Because their stock originally comes from a hot dry climate where these parasites don’t survive as well, Boers don’t have as good of immunity against them as breeds of goats that developed where they were always exposed to the parasites.There are two major parasites that can cause death of goats:

  • Haemonchus contortus, the blood-sucking abomasal worm that causes anemia
  • Coccidia, which live in the intestinal wall, hatch out, and cause destruction of the lining of the intestines, diarrhea, and possibly death if not treated appropriately.

There are many other types of worms that may inhabit Boer’s digestive tract, lungs, liver, etc., but these are the two major ones that are the most common cause of death.Parasites and the resistance of worms to dewormer treatment is a MAJOR concern in any goat herd. Misinformation and a lack of veterinarians willing to work on goats has led to a large amount of misuse of dewormer products.

“Dewormer resistance” means that you give the animal a dose of dewormer, but the worms don’t die because they are immune to the medicine. This is a very bad situation to be in, because in the meantime those worms are multiplying and making more worms that are resistant, too.

There are many strategies you can use to decrease the rate or incidence of dewormer resistance in your flock:

  • Use the right dose of dewormer. Do not use the dose for sheep. Goats are not sheep, and they need more dewormer than sheep. By always under-dosing, it means you are not giving enough medicine to kill all the worms, so the strong ones survive and resistance 28 develops. Make sure you are using goat-approved medicines, and the goat dose.
  • Pasture rotation: many parasites take 21 days to go from egg to adult. This means if your goats move to a new pasture every month, they won’t be able to pick up as many eggs or larvae because the worms will not have had time to develop into adults and produce eggs that are shed into the pasture in the manure.
  • Keep good records. Make a note of which animals required deworming at each check. If you find yourself deworming the same animals at every check, these are the animals that always have a consistently high worm burden and are shedding the most eggs, infecting your pastures. Cull these animals.
  • Use fecal examinations to assess how effective your deworming is. The number of eggs per gram of feces should decrease a lot following deworming. If not, that means the dewormer is not working and you should use a different kind and reassess its effectiveness.
  • Keep feed and watering areas clean and dry. Feeding hay also helps, because the eggs and larvae don’t survive the drying process as well as on wet grass. But make sure the hay stays clean and dry; pooped-on hay is just as bad as pooped-on grass. Elevated feed and water areas are good, although goats love to climb, so make sure you design a system that keeps the goats out of the feeders/waterers, and are not built in such a way that they can get feet, head, horns, etc. stuck.
  • Co-graze with other species. Horses and goats do not share parasites, and cattle and goats do not graze the same forages. The other species acts as a “vacuum”, eating the parasite eggs and larvae that are on the grass, and so preventing their ingestion by goats.
  • Make sure your herd has enough pasture. If goats are crowded, they are more likely to over-graze pasture and pick up more parasites. This is bad for the goats and bad for the pasture, which will quickly turn into a dirt lot, or a mud pit, depending on the weather.

Talk to your veterinarian about the FAMACHA system: Animals’ mucous membranes are checked every 3 weeks and they are only dewormed if they are pale, according to the color chart. This avoids the over-use of medication and slows the rate at which resistance develops. Your veterinarian or local extension office can assist you with learning this system and provide you with a FAMACHA card.

The two populations of goats that are most susceptible to Haemonchus infection are young kids (a few weeks to a few months old) and recently kidded does.

Special attention should be given to the attitude and appearance of these two classes of animals. Mucous membranes should be checked every two to three weeks for signs of paleness, and deworming should be done as needed based on the FAMACHA guidelines and labeled dosage charts.

Goats with Haemonchus infection may not develop diarrhea, so if a goat doesn’t have diarrhea it doesn’t mean it does not have a dangerous parasite load!

Signs to look for other than paleness of mucous membranes are:

Young goats (a few weeks to a few months of age) are the most susceptible group to Coccidia infection. Signs of Coccidia infection include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Depression
  • Poor/rough hair coats
  • Not wanting to nurse

Young goats (a few weeks to a few months of age) are the most susceptible group to Coccidia infection. Signs of Coccidia infection include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Not wanting to nurse
  • Lying down a lot

A fecal examination can confirm Coccidia infection. Deworming should be repeated in 3 weeks.

Foot Rot and Foot Scald

Foot rot is a disease caused by infection by two organisms that eat away at the hoof wall and soft tissues underneath

Foot Rot

Having your veterinarian conduct a regular foot examination is essential to your success as a Boer goat breeder. Older animals are more susceptible to foot rot

Older animals are more susceptible to foot rot and foot scald, and the main source of infection is other infected animals. Although the organism can only survive in the environment for a few weeks, it can survive in the feet of infected animals for good.

Infections most commonly occur when goats have not received proper foot care/trimming, leading to overgrown hooves, and when ground or living conditions are always wet, muddy, dirty, or contaminated with feces.

Foot rot is extremely painful, and animals limp or lie down a lot (they may stand on their knees, looking like they are kneeling in prayer). When the foot is examined, you may notice a foul smell coming from the foot. Infected parts of the hoof will be soft, rotten, and black, bloody, or oozy.

If you discover one of your Boers has foot rot and you want to keep the goat instead of culling it, you’ll have to be aggressive in your treatment – including trimming away all of the affected tissue until healthy tissue is reached.

Trimming away all rotten foot tissue can mean a lot of bleeding and the removal of large portions of foot. Then the animals need to stand in a zinc sulfide bath for at least 20 minutes, once or twice a day, which will kill the bacteria and help the feet dry and harden.

Antibiotic treatment has little effect on foot root; the most important thing is to eliminate any “pockets” that hold dirt and debris. This is why it is important that your veterinarian develop a plan of care for any sick goats.

Healthy animals should be separated from affected animals, because the bacteria will contaminate the whole pasture or barn, and other animals may 32 get infected, leading to further spread. Ideally, you should be putting the healthy Boers into a “clean” pasture.

The bacteria can hang around for weeks, especially in wet weather. Animals should be checked frequently and animals that develop lameness should immediately be removed and put with the affected animals.

Once a herd has foot rot, it is very hard to eliminate, even with intensive care. The most common way a herd gets foot rot is introducing a new animal that has it to the herd, which is why isolation of new arrivals and careful examination before putting them with the rest of the herd is so important.

Foot Scald

Foot scald is not as big a problem as foot rot, but can still cause significant lameness. The difference between foot rot and foot scald is that foot scald is an infection of the skin between the toes, not an infection of the hoof wall itself. It is imperative that your veterinarian determine if your goat has foot rot, food scald, or something else.

 Foot scald can also smell terrible. The skin between the toes will be swollen, soft, cracked, and may have a cream-colored pus-like substance. Foot scald also occurs most often when feet are overgrown and conditions are wet.

 Foot scald can be cured by doing the following:

  • Cleaning the skin between the toes with gauze soaked in betadine, chlorhexidine, or zinc sulfate (Hoof and Heal™ is a great foot product that contains zinc sulfate)
  • Giving the goat a foot soak or footbath
  • Improving footing conditions and providing routine foot care

Some animals seem to be predisposed to foot scald (those goats usually have bad foot conformation).

Providing foot care right when you see a problem, and always maintaining clean living conditions, are the best ways to avoid both foot rot and foot scald.

If feet are trimmed regularly and kept dry, this avoids cracking, peeling, and folding of the hoof wall, and over-separation and stretching of the skin that 33 leads to problems. Some goats just have “bad feet” and are more prone to developing feet problems. These animals should be culled.

Other Boer Goat Health Problems

While parasites and foot rot/foot scald are the two main health problems that Boers get, you need to be aware of other conditions that your herd might encounter. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!


Goats can get lice, especially in the late winter/spring, when they have been huddled together through the cold months, and may be a little run down and under-nourished.

There are two types of lice: biting and sucking. Biting lice have broad heads, and sucking have narrow heads, compared to their bodies.

Lice like warm dark places, so if the goats seem overly itchy (and normally they do like to scratch themselves some on the fence, with their horns, on the feeders, etc. but it should not be constant) and you see hairless patches on the animal, you should suspect lice

If you suspect lice, look in the creases of their elbows, in the inner thigh area, and next to the scrotum, in the males. Lice are tiny and can be hard to see, but part the hair and you may see them crawling around. You may also see the eggs (nits) attached to the fur.

There are many products to treat lice, like permethrin dusts or injectible Ivomec (which only works for sucking lice). You will have to re-treat in 3 weeks to kill the lice that hatched from the nits, because the lice products only kill the larvae and adults, not the eggs.

Lice are species specific: goats get goat lice, sheep get sheep lice, cattle get cattle lice, and one species cannot give its lice to another (and you can’t get lice from your goat).

Respiratory disease

Boer goats can get pneumonia like any other animal. Young goats are most susceptible, especially if their living conditions are crowded, dirty, or dusty, their nutrition is poor, or they don’t suckle enough colostrum at birth.

Bacterial pneumonia is the most common, and will cause fever, coughing, sneezing, nasal and ocular discharge, difficulty breathing, and lack of appetite.There are a variety of antibiotics that can be used to treat pneumonia, although a lot of bacteria are resistant to tetracyclines and penicillins, which are available over-the-counter. Consult your veterinarian for the best course of treatment for your sick goat.

Sometimes goats can get lung parasites, too, although infection is rarely severe enough to cause death. Usually the animal with lung worms has a cough, especially after exercise, but no nasal discharge or fever, and seems otherwise healthy.

Drug Withdrawal Times

One thing to keep in mind with any meat goats is the drug “withdrawal time”. This is the amount of time that you must wait after giving a goat a particular drug before its meat is suitable for consumption, or the time it takes for that drug not to be detectable in the meat at slaughter.

The withdrawal time varies for each drug, so it is VERY important to read the manufacturer’s labels regarding the withdrawal time, and consult your veterinarian because if drug residues are detected in your goat’s meat at slaughter, you can be fined a hefty sum by the USDA.

Drugs that are not labeled for use in goats have an “unestablished withdrawal time”, meaning it’s not known how long residues stay in their tissues.

These drugs can legally ONLY be used by a licensed veterinarian, and then it is considered “off-label usage”. “Drugs” include antibiotics, dewormers, nutritional supplements, and anything that you inject into the animal or stick in its mouth. Some drugs are ILLEGAL to use in ANY food animal species, 35 like phenylbutazone and chloramphenicol. Read labels carefully and dose according to instructions.

23. What vaccinations do I need to give my Boer goats?

Vaccinations are extremely important in keeping your Boers healthy. Your goats must be vaccinated according to the laws of your locality, city, state, province, region, and country. Your veterinarian must be consulted for your Boer goat vaccination regimen.

A Few Final Words on Boer Goat Health

The above guidelines touch on a few of the most important and common diseases encountered by Boer goat owners. They are also the easiest to recognize before you buy your goats, because you can observe the animals’ behavior and appearance.

In short, when you are buying new animals, avoid any animals that:

  • Are lame
  • Have swellings on their bodies (especially around the head and throat)
  • Have diarrhea, pale mucous membranes, runny eyes or noses, or cough

Prevention is the best way to avoid bringing problems to your farm, and a thorough physical exam and knowing what to look for, and which animals to avoid, is big first step to establishing a healthy herd and keeping it that way.

Involving your veterinarian from goat purchase or goat birth through their entire life cycle is the best thing that you can do for the health of your herd.

24. What should I feed my Boer goats to get the best weight gain?

Many people have the wrong impression about goat feed – they think that goats are going to survive on tin cans. Well, Boers are very curious, but they actually choose the best food available to them on the field.

Boers often go for plants that we consider to be weeds, which are in fact very nutritious. Goats prefer them when they are lush and young, which is when they are most nutritious.

If you are a good grazier and can do a good job raising good quality forage for your animals in a warm or moderate climate, you can feed your animals for most of the year without purchase feed. However, during the winter, you probably should provide them with good quality hay, and supplement that with some purchased feed.

Some farmers want their goats to be in optimum body condition all year round, which is unrealistic. For example, it’s normal for a doe to lose weight during lactation, or they may be lean toward the end of winter. They will quickly rebound in the spring.

Feed is the largest expense of a goat operation, so if you want to make profits, you must move away from heavy feeding.

To grow a goat’s weight in winter just before the slaughter house, purchased feed is acceptable. The recommended amount is no more than a pound of whatever you feed them. Start with a quarter pound, and increase it to half a pound. But base your feed changes on the body conditions of your animals.

One example of the type of feed used by a lot of Boer goat farmers is Rumensin, which is a medicated feed.

When thinking about what to feed your Boers, try to “think outside the box”. Industrial byproducts are a cheap way of getting high energy feed. What is available depends on the region. For example, hulled cotton seed or soybean hulls can be mixed with good quality hay to get a very good feed for the winter for a very reasonable cost. This may be even better nutrition than purchased feed (ex: hulled cotton has 18% protein).

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