Whether you are considering goat ownership or adding to your herd, consider some things before you buy a goat. Extra care in the beginning can save expense and heartache down the road.
I spoke with Gloria Montero of Montero Goat Farms. Gloria has been around goats since infancy, when her father bought milk goats because she couldn’t drink other types of milk. She currently raises South African Boers, LaManchas, and Saanen/Alpine crosses. She sells goat meat to stores in Reno, Nevada and individuals in neighboring Fallon, as well as project animals for Grange, 4-H , FFA, and independent youth.
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Gloria is the program director for Nevada Goat Producers Association and often receives emails and calls from people who bought goats and didn’t get what they wanted. Often, sellers told buyers that the animal was papered, registered, and came from champion stock but this was untrue.
“If you are buying stock for the first time or the hundredth time, it is essential to do your homework. Up-to-date research will enable you to find reputable sources. Take your time and shop around. Learn what questions to ask. Never become impatient and buy on a whim. When looking at registered stock, the producer should be able to show you papers on the animal and the animal’s dame and sire. Registered papers on a goat is comparable to a title for a car.” Gloria asserts, “No matter what a seller may tell you, if they can’t display the appropriate papers, then you best walk away.”
Determine Your Goal
“What is your reason for owning a goat?” Gloria asks.
If you want it to eat weeds, be aware that goats don’t eat all weeds. You must provide something with nutritional value; contrary to popular opinion, goats are not garbage disposals. If you want it for packing, be able to devote the time it takes to train a pack goat. Some breeds are better for milk production and some are better for meat. Deciding why you want the goat helps you know what questions to ask.
Buy a Goat From a Reputable Breeder
Before you buy a goat, go to the farm and look around. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is a big difference between a breeder and a dealer.
Gloria uses the term “goat dealer” for people who pick up goats then resell them within five to six days. Unscrupulous dealers take advantage of “buyer’s frenzy” and tell you anything just to make a quick sale. The most common trick to create buyer frenzy is creating a sense of urgency. If someone pushes you to make a decision on the spot, walk away. There will always be another goat.
Ask for Proof
Don’t take a seller’s word that their goats are disease-free. Ask to see test results. Don’t be shy about it. The three most important goat diseases to test for are CL (caseous lymphadenitis), CAE (caprine arthritis encephalitis), and Johne’s disease (paratuberculosis).
CL is highly contagious. Once the goat becomes infected, they have repeated abscesses for life. Internal abscesses can cause chronic weight loss, exercise intolerance, difficult breathing, chronic cough, or sudden death.
Viral disease CAE lives in the goat’s white blood cells. It can cause arthritis, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), pneumonia, mastitis, and chronic wasting. It spreads mainly through the mother’s colostrum although it can be spread through bodily secretions or reuse of needles. There is no cure for CAE.
Johne’s (pronounced YOH-nez) is a wasting disease that can spread through feces. After a goat becomes infected, it can be years before it shows symptoms. Unfortunately, the test is not 100 percent accurate. Only about 50-88 percent of infected animals will test positive.
If a seller doesn’t know tests are available or says they haven’t tested, ask to test before you buy. You can negotiate who will pay for the test. It is more common for the seller to pay, but it is cheaper for you to pay for the test than to take home a sick animal.
Be Careful about Claims of Vaccination for CL
There are two types of vaccination for CL. One is available over the counter and administered by the goat owner. The other is made by a veterinarian who opens an abscess, takes the pus, and creates a vaccine for that specific herd. Both vaccinations need to be administered every year. You have no idea how often the seller actually administered the over-the-counter vaccination. Once a goat has been vaccinated for CL once, it will test positive for the rest of its life, so someone could pay a veterinarian to administer the over-the-counter vaccination just to create that proof. If this is the case, talk to the vet to make sure.
Check With Your Local Vet before Owning a Goat
Many U.S. veterinarians don’t have much education or experience with caring for goats. If your local vet does not understand goat illnesses or know about these tests, you will have to do it yourself. Nevada Goat Producers Association supplies syringes and vials and will come out and show you what to do.
“You draw the blood and you send it to the lab and the lab will send the test back saying positive or negative,” Gloria says. If you think you will be okay doing this yourself, check in your area for similar organizations to help you.
Research Before You Buy
Know what you are getting into before you buy a goat. Taking the extra time avoids buyer’s frenzy and unscrupulous people who push people to buy without thinking. The Nevada Goat Producers website has good information. If you have questions not covered in their links, their board members are willing to accept calls and answer questions. They do this for free so please be respectful of their time.
If you start with good, healthy, clean animals, you can avoid the heartbreak of having to get rid of an animal you have grown to love.
“I’ve seen it happen with FFA, 4-H, Grange kids. They go out and buy an animal, and they spend a lot of time with their project animal. Then they come to find out it’s got arthritis and it’s only going to live six years and they have to watch it suffer,” says Gloria. “If you want this animal for production, if you really want a good production, start with healthy.” She adds, “Just because it says it’s cheap or free — do you know what cheap or free means? That means you are going to spend a lot of money real soon for some reason. Because you didn’t want to spend a little bit extra on a clean-tested herd, now you’re going to spend even more on a sick animal.”
Don’t let shysters talk you into buyer’s frenzy. Doing your homework before you buy a goat pays in the long run.
Originally published in the July/August issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.