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Improving understanding of health issues in goats

A wide variety of issues faced by dairy and pet goats were discussed at the Goat Veterinary Society meeting on 2nd November

by Jennifer Banfield
19 December 2017, at 2:21pm

The Goat Veterinary Society autumn meeting and AGM was held at Taunton racecourse. David Harwood (chairman) reported that the Society has prepared a positioning paper on antibiotic use and resistance in goats, which is available on request. Closer links with the Sheep Veterinary Society have been developed to consider topics of mutual interest. An update of the BVD incident with imported cattle was presented and delegates were urged to seek details of clarification from APHA. Experiences with the management of TB testing for goats have been collated and information is available on the GVS website. 

Veterinary surgeons are requested to indicate their use of analgesia in goats; a short, confidential questionnaire is available from Ben Dunstan (honorary secretary) at: bencowvet@gmail.com. The Milking Goat Association (www. milkinggoat.org.uk) has been established to further the interests of this expanding industry group. 

Hoof health 

A recorded presentation from New Zealand, by Laura Deeming (Massey University), provided an update of her hoof health PhD project involving the Dairy Goat Cooperative, with 72 herds supplying milk for infant formula from 45,000 goats. 

Grass is grown all year round, is cut and carried to the herd and comprises 75% of the milking goat diet. The animals are bedded down on wood shavings. Concentrate nuts are fed in the milking parlour and the goats run from the barn to the parlour and from the parlour to the barn. Running goats do not appear to be lame and the incidence of lameness in a herd is greatly underestimated by farm managers. Lame goats lie down longer, eat less and produce less milk. It is important to identify all levels of lameness, not just the severe cases, with early intervention offering a better chance of recovery. 

The stages of lameness are recognised as normal, mild, moderate and severe; detecting the cases between normal and mild is the challenge. These goats exhibit an uneven gait, which is detectable before limping, with shorter strides, slightly stiff joints and inward or outward swinging of the hoof. Hoof lesions are related to wet shavings from liquid dung, due to the grass diet. 

Over-feeding of a total mixed ration has led to laminitis. Hoof wall separation is recorded. 

The project is examining infra-red images of hooves for inflammation and x-rays, before and after trimming, with a first trim at five months of age compared to 13 months. Photographs of legs show the standing position, shape of the hoof and weight distribution. Hoof health and lameness is seen as one of the biggest problems for dairy goats and early life management has long-term impacts. 

Urolithiasis in pygmy goats

The Society is inclusive of the whole spectrum of goatkeeping and James Adams (RVC) discussed the issues with urolithiasis in pet pygmy goats. The development of stones is due to trauma, infection and/or limited access to water. 

Infections lead to an increase in pH in the bladder and lack of urination causes muco-proteins to accumulate. Bullied goats are not happy to stand and urinate. The speaker emphasised that goats do not need good grass or a grainbased diet and the availability of rain water is better than high-calcium mains water. Small male goats suffer from trapped stones within the S-shaped sigmoid flexure behind the testicles while large goats suffer stones nearer to the prepuce. Early signs are bloating, being off food, failure to urinate and outstretching of the body. A pygmy goat has a small bladder (5cm). 

Tube cystostomy can be successful, but it is necessary to keep the tube clear of mucus. A poor prognosis can be anticipated with small goats that have a stone in the urethra and also goats with an excessively high creatinase reading. Larger goats have a better prognosis, but surgery needs to take place within two days. The advice to veterinary surgeons considering surgery is ‘don’t sit on it’.

Poisoning by plants 

Nicola Bates highlighted the experience of the Veterinary Poisons Information Service, which has records of 272 goat incidents. Direct poisoning by plants makes up 58% of the cases, with agrochemicals sprayed on plants and then the plants being eaten accounting for 32%. Hedge clippings are a recognised poisoning risk. 

Grayanotoxin from rhododendron and azalea lead to hyposalivation, regurgitation and abdominal discomfort within six hours of ingestion. The goats may recover, but subsequently die from pneumonia. 

This year has been a good cropping year for berries; cherry laurel (cyanogenic glycosides) together with yew (taxane alkaloids) can cause sudden death within a few minutes. Ingestion of leylandii (Cupressus sp.) leads to convulsions and sudden death. 

There are few antidotes available with activated charcoal, pain relief and rehydration recognised as beneficial in mild cases. Intravenous lipid has been shown to be effective if used quickly, but more information and an assessment of cost and practicality are awaited.

Triage advice to goat-keepers is available via www. animalpoisonline.co.uk and the VPIS offers a 24-hour support service for veterinary surgeons. 

Goats as pets 

Margit Groenevelt related her experiences of treating the goat that is really the family dog. Many owners are inexperienced and feed inappropriate diets, have small permanent pasture grazing (endoparasites an issue) and the goats often have overgrown and deformed claws. 

Tooth problems are noticed when the goat stops eating roughage or hay and loses weight. Arthritis in the shoulder joints of older goats requires soft standing and a warm bed in winter with meloxicam or aspirin. 

Although a clinical examination of the family goat is the same, owners are prepared to pay for additional diagnostics and to discuss treatment options with the examining vet, a similar procedure as with a pet dog owner. 

Margit discussed the regulations for the use of antibiotics in the Netherlands, where the impacts of veterinary treatment plans and health plans are having a beneficial effect with a targeted approach. Goat-keepers are not included within the programme, but voluntary use of the principles is expected.

Johne’s-free goats 

Farmers supplying goat milk to one creamery are being urged by the milk buyer to have Johne’s-free stock and MAP (mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis)-free milk. Matt Pugh from the Belmont Farm and Equine Group described their practice experience with an ongoing study of 15 herds that have a history of Johne’s control by vaccination alone. 

Tests on the dung of 545 animals, by Elisa and pooled PCR, showed that from 10% to 100% were MAP-positive, indicating that vaccination alone is not a successful policy. 

The work to date has raised practical questions including: how does the immune status vary in relation to the MAP challenge? How do other disease challenges influence the immune response? Is a screening process needed? 

Goat Johne’s is different to cattle Johne’s, with more false negatives in goat PCR. Kid snatching is more difficult than calf snatching due to practical management and staffing issues. The aims of the farmer and the milk buyer are not the same, with the farmer looking for better production and herd health and the processor infection-free milk. 

It is recognised that pasteurisation neutralises MAP and that freedom from disease is sought for human health security. The presence of the organism in milk is a function of on-farm hygiene and the veterinary practice is seeking a way forward that satisfies all parties.

The kid tracker project 

Caroline Rank, from the same practice, gave an update of the kid tracker project involving nine commercial goat farms with the aim of establishing key performance indicators. To date, the information shows that there is considerable individual variation in colostrum quality, with a range of 17% to 100% of samples testing as adequate. Those with adequate colostrum intake showed a 12% incidence of pneumonia with the inadequate colostrum group having a 31% incidence.

The individual farm pneumonia incidence is from 1% to 66% of animals. The herd incidence of scour was from 8% to 32% and there was a variation in kid mortality from 9% to 17% with a loss of a significant number of kids in the preweaning stage. Pre-weaning growth rates varied from 100 to 382 grams per day and post-weaning 23 to 340 grams per day. The reasons for these variations are of concern and it is hoped to track the lifetime impact on fertility and production as adults.

Jennifer Banfield