November 2016 Issue



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Everything You Think You Know About Goats Is Probably Wrong

Unless you have raised goats for many years, your impression of goats is likely based upon the popular myth that goats are "junk" animals that can survive on anything (tin cans and cardboard) and thrive in any environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Goats are a small ruminant species that have early sexual maturity, short gestation, and multiple births -- because in Nature under unmanaged conditions about half of those born will die, while only the hearty will live. In the natural world, this is how all species survive.

Goats are extremely picky eaters. Cattle can digest many plant materials that goats cannot. Acid Detergent Fiber is a measure of digestibility of plant materials. If the ADF is higher than 39, goats literally cannot digest it because there is too much lignin (non-digestible cellulose) in the plant.

There are many other facts about goats that I cover in other articles I've written that are available on the Articles page at

Stress is a demand threat in which adrenaline and cortisol arouse the body to emergency action. Stress is a major killer of goats. Manage your goats and your pastures to avoid stressing both of them.

Stressors include incorrect diet (too much, too little, just plain wrong diet), not enough living space (overcrowding), extremes of temperatures, no protection from wind and rain (goats hate water and cannot handle wind), not enough exercise (you cannot keep them stalled like horses), boredom (goats are very smart animals and get bored easily), too much noise (example: wind farm turbine noise is upsetting to the point of negatively affecting breeding cycles), parturition (giving birth), transporting to new locations, isolation from other goats (the herd means safety), and rough handling by people.

Some symptoms of stress include being off feed and/or not drinking water, tail down during good weather conditions, droopy countenance, isolation from other goats, and diarrhea. I can look at my goats' eyes and tell if they are stressed or ill. Each of these symptoms can indicate different illnesses, so you must study your goats to be able to diagnose illnesses and then evaluate the management techniques that you use that may have caused them.

Biotic stress is stress caused by other living organisms. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, insects, toxic plants, and predators. All of these stressors can be controlled through proper management.

Overcrowded and too wet conditions result in biotic stress. Goats cannot live healthy lives in crowded or wet conditions. Transporting them from location to location, even on your own property, is stressful. When I move a herd on my ranch from one pasture to another, the goats act like they've been dropped off on a different planet; goats hate change. Stress often results in "shipping fever," with symptoms including fever, nasal discharge, and rapid breathing. (Oxytetracycline 200 mg/ml or Nuflor Gold are appropriate antibiotics.) Stress and adaptability are intertwined. Goats need time and proper management to adapt to new conditions and locations. Isolation from other goats is also a stressor. Goats are extremely social animals. The herd is their primary, and sometimes only, source of safety.

The establishment of goats within a new herd is stressful. Goats have a very distinct pecking order. Moving them from one herd to another means that they must re-set their pecking order. Herds of bucks require special handling. Bucks have one purpose in life -- reproduction of their genetic lines -- that keeps them in a constant state of conflict for dominance over other bucks (whether does are with them or not). There are several articles on the Articles page of and in the MeatGoatMania Archives where I address how I handle this situation.

Abiotic stress is stress caused by sun, wind, rain, heat, cold, and other unavoidable environmental conditons. These are the most most harmful factors affecting growth and productivity. These stressors have to be managed to keep them from hurting goats.

Plant stress occurs when too much, too little, or poor quality water exists. Heat and cold stress affect both plant and animal productivity. Over-use (over-foraging/over-browsing) of pastures affect the nutritional value of what goats have available to eat. Diseases such as listeriosis, tetanus, pneumonia, and laminitis-founder can start with stressed pastures. Animal stress and plant stress are intertwined. There are detailed articles on these topics on both and in the MeatGoatMania archives.

Learn to "think like a goat" and you will be better able to work with your goats rather than trying to force them to move and behave in ways not normal to them. But you are never going to be able to make them adapt to feed-lot situations. They'll sit down and die from the stress of such crowded conditions. They are not "little cattle" or sheep. Goats are more like deer than any other species.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 10/7/16


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Stocking rates for cattle and some other species of livestock are based upon how many head can be run on an acre of land without over-grazing. This is not true for goats. Goats are not "little cattle" or sheep. They live and eat like deer and must be managed accordingly.

Stocking rates for goats cannot be based upon the availability of plant materials for consumption. Goat stocking rates must be based upon controlling internal parasites and avoiding wet conditions and over-crowding. Goats are very susceptible to internal parasites, particularly the blood-sucking stomach worm Haemonchus contortus (barberpole worm) that causes anemia and death. Goats, like deer, need lots of land to roam over. By moving continually and eating "from the top down," goats avoid worms that are on plant materials that are closest to the ground. Having lots of land to roam over allows goats to keep distances among themselves, further reducing the chance of ingesting worms. Goats cannot handle the stress or the worm load that exists in wet and overcrowded conditions. WET = WORMS. No goat breed is resistant to worms.

Goats are primarily browsers and foragers of leaves and weeds. Goats will eat many types of nutritious plant materials, including grasses. In fact, they eat different plants at different times of the year and will even vary their choices from morning to evening. Goats are very picky eaters. There are many plant materials that cows and sheep will eat but goats won't eat because they cannot digest them. Goats have the fastest metabolisms of all ruminants, except deer, and as such, must eat easy-to-digest plant materials frequently. If the Acid Detergent Fiber (a measure of digestibility of plant materials) is 39 or higher, then too much lignin is present and goats cannot digest it.

Goats will always find and eat the newest and most tender growth. If you force goats to graze pastures, they are not going to eat the tall grasses but instead will go to ground level to get the youngest and most tender shoots -- right where the worms are . Worm eggs hatch, travel up the new blades of grass, and wait for goats to ingest them. Even in dry climates, worms can survive for long periods of time and can do much damage to goats if wet and overcrowded conditions exist.

Meningeal deerworm is another internal parasite devastating to goats living in areas of white-tail deer populations. The combination of standing water (bogs, marshes, ponds, lakes, and even heavy leaf litter) and white-tail deer too often results in Meningeal Deerworm Infection. Meningeal deerworm infection can be hard to diagnose, is difficult to combat, must be treated aggressively and quickly, and often leaves permanent damage (including paralysis). Read my article entitled Meningeal Deerworm Infection on the Articles page of for additional information about diagnosis and treatment.

Goats thrive best in dry climates. They can be raised in moderately wet climates if you are able to provide an environment that minimizes their exposure to internal parasites. You must have well-drained pastures, build at least three and preferably more rotational paddocks to move goats through about every three weeks (the life cycle of a stomach worm), and be prepared to feed supplementally when weather is bad or pastures cannot support the goats' nutritional needs. Running a second species like cattle behind goats through the rotational pastures can help clean up the stomach worm load.

Rotational grazing with cattle is done to make cattle eat the available plant material in order to avoid supplemental feeding. Rotating goats in pastures is done to control internal parasites and avoid the stresses caused by wet and overcrowding. Unless they are reduced to starvation, goats are not going to eat the coarse plant materials that cattle will eat as filler; it has no nutritional value to goats, they know it, and their bodies cannot digest it. You cannot starve the profit out of a goat.

Start small with just a few goats. Goats multiply quickly. Sexual maturity is as early as two months of age in some goat breeds, gestation is five months, and multiple births are common. Populations can double in less than one year. Your pasture/forage/browse will be depleted quickly, supplemental feeding will be necessary, and stress and worm loads will increase rapidly.

Controlling worm loads is critically important to the health of your herd. Stomach worms suck the blood from goats, causing anemia and death. No goat can eat enough to overcome a heavy worm load. Worms develop resistance to dewormers faster than goats can adapt to wormloads. And you cannot deworm your way out of heavy wormloads. If you insist upon raising goats in wet and/or overcrowded conditions and if you deworm as frequently as monthly, then you are creating super worms against which no class of dewormer will work for long.

Do fecal counts every few weeks and cull those goats that cannot tolerate a moderate worm load. Realize that if goats are in overcrowded and/or wet conditions, they cannot adapt to even a moderate wormload, so you have to keep your head count in line with what your land can support and the goats can handle.

Don't anticipate the development of new classes of dewormers. It isn't likely to happen. Most dewormers and other medications that we use for goats are off-label/extra-label because the goat population isn't large enough to justify the costs involved in getting products approved for this minor species of livestock.

If you can't make these recommendations work for you, then goats probably aren't suited for your land and your climate and you will save money and goats' lives by finding a different and more suitable species to raise.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 10-10-16



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