Producers told to probe goat deaths

Kids are vulnerable | Deaths among newly born goat kids are high, says veterinarian

Goat kid death rates are higher than they should be, says Dr. Chris Clark, a large animal science professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.


Producers should try to find out why.


Clarke told the Saskatchewan Goat Breeders Association annual meeting in Regina that producers should consider two possibilities: the kid was born dead or it was born alive and then died.


Just because a producer never saw the kid alive doesn’t mean it never was, Clark said.


“The reality is not that many animals are born dead,” he said.


However, a producer’s records might show a high number in that category.


Clark said it’s important to know what really happened, and producers can perform simple post mortem procedures to find out.


“Open the chest, take a piece of lung and drop it in water,” he said.


If it floats, the animal had taken a breath and there was an opportunity to keep it alive.


Clark said recognizing why animals die is an important part of a producer’s management plan.


For example, some kids are born in the amniotic sac and drown. In that case, the solution is to have someone on hand to get the animal out.


Another test is to check for a broken rib to determine if another goat laid or stepped on the newborn and caused its death.


“So, did the lungs float? Is there evidence of trauma? Is there milk in the stomach?” Clark said.


Some kids will starve to death because they didn’t get enough milk right away.


“You’ve got to be kind of brutal to yourself,” he told producers.


Kids that are born dead earlier than expected could be a result of an infection causing late-term abortion.


Clark said these types of abortions are a significant issue in Western Canada and a concern because some of the infectious agents are transmissible to humans. One can cause miscarriages in pregnant women.


He said the deck is stacked against goat kids that are born alive. They are tiny, sopping wet, have no fat and immediately begin to run out of energy.


“These things are basically born with the empty light flashing on the gas tank,” Clark said.


Exposure, hypothermia and starvation are collectively the number one cause of death.


Getting nutrition into a kid should be a priority, which ideally occurs within six hours. A good doe can handle this, but sometimes producers have to intervene.


“Colostrum early in life is pretty much the answer to everything,” Clark said.


One of the producer’s key jobs as a manager is to make sure the colostrum, either from the mother, another doe preferably from the same farm or a commercial replacement, is in the kid within six hours and certainly not more than 12 hours after birth.


“Pick them up and look at their belly,” Clark said. 


“A belly wider than the ribs is what you want to see before they are six hours old.”


Check constantly, and administer colostrum if in doubt, making sure to pay attention to the timing window.


“Giving colostrum to them after 12 hours is not going to get antibodies into them,” he said.


Kids are born with fully functioning immune systems, but they’re coming from a sterile environment into one full of bacteria. 


Clark said the immune system needs seven to 10 days to learn what it needs to learn and is often overwhelmed.


Cattle studies have shown that calves that receive less colostrum weigh less at six months of age. Dairy heifers that didn’t get enough colostrum produced less milk in their first lactation.


“You want to load the dice in your favour,” Clark said.


Neonatal death rates in United Kingdom goat herds average 10 to 15 percent but can be as high as 25 percent.


Clark said the goal should be five percent loss.