December 2010 Issue



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How Do You Know When To Give Up And Put Down A Sick Meat Goat?

The last thing that a newcomer to raising goats ever thinks about is having to put down (euthanize) one of them. If your background does not include living and working with livestock -- if you've spent most of your life living in urban areas, as this writer did prior to 1990 -- this can be a very difficult concept to understand much less put into action. It is a transition that some goat raisers are never able to make. However, understanding that death is part of life and that there are worse things than dying is basic to raising animals of any species.

The type of meat-goat operation that you have will determine how you handle sick and dying goats. Hobby and pet breeders usually go to extra lengths to keep ill and handicapped animals alive, providing extensive and sometimes expensive supportive care on a long-term basis. Commercial producers must have minimal input in order to make money, so their approach is more "survival of the fittest." Breeding-stock producers must take into account the need for hardiness and adaptability while breeding and culling to achieve established goals, so these folks must find some acceptable place in between these two extremes, but closer to the commercial producer's approach.

Too few veterinarians have the skills needed to treat goats, so producers must learn how to do most of their own goat health care. There are terrific resources on the Internet if you know where to look. (There is also much mis-information and bad advice on the Internet.) Find and join a good meat-goat discussion group and "lurk and learn" in the beginning; you will be astonished at how much information you will absorb just by reading for the first few weeks of subscribership. I own and host three groups on Yahoogroups on the Internet, all of which are free: ChevonTalk. GoatER. and MeatGoatMania. If you don't have Internet access, you need to get it. There are no good and easily understandable comprehensive books about meat-goat health, nutrition, and management. However, my website has an Articles page with lots of excellent articles. Another great learning resource is GoatCamp™ held at Onion Creek Ranch in Texas the third full week of every October. GoatCamp™ information is available on the GoatCamp™ page at

In order to save a sick goat, the producer has to have some idea what is wrong with it and what to do about it. For purposes of this article, problems specific to dystocia (birthing difficulties) will not be discussed. I have detailed articles on all types of dystocia on my website. Sometimes the problem is of the producer's own creation and the goat is suffering because of it. Rumen problems, laminitis/founder, bloat, and urinary calculi are management related illnesses caused by improper feeding. Goats raised under confined conditions do not have the ability to selectively choose what they eat, while goats in the wild are usually able to avoid or overcome rumen-related illnesses by carefully selecting what they consume. Goats that become injured because of improper use of herd or guardian animals, poor or incorrect fencing, penning goats in the wrong combinations (very small with very large, aggressive with meek, etc.), or goats that have eaten something toxic that they could not get away from due to confinement -- all of these situations should be corrected by the owner. A goat that is sick because of something its owner did is a goat that is deserving of assistance in getting well.

Certain situations are not reasonably fixable in goats -- cleft palate and atresia ani (no rectal opening) are two of them that are visually identifiable. Such goats should be quickly and humanely euthanized to prevent suffering. There are sites on the Internet that describe humane euthanization techniques. Some goats have characteristics, physical or behavioral, that are undesirable in terms of perpetuating their genetics into subsequent generations and therefore should not be bred. These animals should be culled and used for meat -- a purposeful way of "putting them down." Some situations must be decided on a case-by-case basis. A leg break above the hock or in the upper joints of the leg requires vet assistance. Some producers would find it appropriate to put down this goat if a vet is not available because such breaks are extremely difficult to treat and heal poorly. Goats that don't thrive should be removed from the genetic base and consumed as food. Goats that test positive for Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE) and Johnes Disease should be removed from the herd and used for food.

As a breeding-stock producer, I struggle with trying to achieve minimal interference in my goats' lives while enhancing breed attributes through selective breeding. Too much involvement means a loss of adaptability -- a hugely important characteristic of a quality meat goat. It is important to let a goat be a goat. To meet my breeding-stock goals, an apparent quality meat goat is helped to get well if it is making an effort on its own part to live, if the problem is repairable, and if the animal will be able to make a positive contribution towards the betterment of the overall herd. This rule is applied to kids, because I do not know how kids will grow out. I try to save kids to give them a chance to show me what they can become. If the goat is visibly suffering and has given up -- and you will know if the goat has given up -- then that animal should be quickly and humanely euthanized. Learn to think like a goat and you will be surprised at how well you and your goats will communicate. If you are paying attention, a goat that is ready to die will tell you it is it is time to go. There are worse things than death in a goat's world.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto
Revised 10-3-10

Subscribe FREE now! Monthly issues with new articles and other educational information on meat goat health, nutrition, and management written by Suzanne W. Gasparotto of Onion Creek Ranch and Pat Cotten of Bending Tree Ranch. In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Neither Suzanne Gasparotto nor Pat Cotten are veterinarians. None of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.


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325-344-5775 for prices and availability.


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