The Goat Veterinary Society (GVS) held its inaugural meeting at the National Institute for Research in Dairying on 6 October 1979. The declared aim was to “promote an interest and knowledge in goats among the veterinary profession”. One of the noticeable features of the meetings is that an owner of a thousand milking goats will sit next to a pedigree show goat breeder and have a worthwhile discussion about aspects of goat keeping. The first paper presented over 40 years ago by Alan Mowlem referred to a character description of the goat by Professor Law in Domesticated Animals of Britain (1845).
“[The goat] is lively, ardent, robust, capable of enduring the most intense cold, and seemingly little incommoded by the extremes of heat. It is wild, irregular, and erratic in its movements. It is bold in its own defence, putting itself in an attitude of defiance when provoked by animals, however larger than itself. Its horns turning outward at the points, it rises when it fights upon its hinder legs and throwing the weight of its body sideways, endeavours to maim its enemy by oblique strokes of the horns. […] A dog that will despise a ram, and assail a bull, is frequently cowed by this peculiar mode of attack and demeanour of the goat. […] Goats will eat of many bitter and narcotic plants which other animals reject, nay, of some which are deemed poisonous, as the hemlock and foxglove. […] When the goat is kept apart from the flock, he becomes attached to his protectors, familiar and inquisitive, finding his way into every place, and examining whatever is new to him. He is eminently social, attaching himself to other animals, however different from himself.”
Professor Law in Domesticated Animals of Britain (1845)
Little wonder that a repeated cry from veterinary surgeons and goat keepers is that goats are not like sheep or calves and need to be given specific consideration when faced with diagnosis and therapy. One of the very difficult areas is anaesthesia and analgesia. At that first meeting in 1979, a published list of available products for anaesthesia would cause amusement to current graduates as though it were the dark ages. However, dehorning of a goat is considered an act of veterinary medicine and so not able to be carried out by keepers. For the veterinary surgeon, a video showing the recommended procedure was published by the Society a few short years ago, but because of changes in legislation, the act remains a difficult area and the video is no longer distributed. The use of general anaesthesia in a week-old kid is considered less fraught than the use of local anaesthetic, with pain relief support thereafter. The Goat Veterinary Society is a source of updated information, including applying the cascade, and can arrange for a supply of dehorning irons that differ from those used with calves.
The evolution of the goat industry
At the 40th anniversary meeting last October, Kathleen Wielkopolska presented an overview of the goat industry and changes that have taken place over the years. Her paper (Wielkopolska, 2020) makes interesting reading and is available on the Society website. She observes that the demand for goat dairy products increased year on year from the 1980s until the recession in 2008. The introduction of plant based “milks” has had a negative impact, and the European Food Safety Authority banned the sale of infant goat milk formulas in Europe from 2006 to 2014. The demand for goat milk formula from China and Asia remained and persists today.
In the past, most goats in the UK would have been purebred or pedigree animals in small herds and with the advent of commercial dairy goats, breeders provided the original source for breeding bucks. Most commercial milking goats are now crossbred and there has been little use of artificial insemination but progeny testing has shown its worth in milk output and overall performance. The use of genomics to select bucks for breeding replacements has shortened the time for generational progress. It is expected that does will have longer lactations with no need to kid a doe every year. This will assist animal welfare and does may only have one or two extended lactations in a lifetime. The use of female sexed semen is developing and this would offer an expected reduction in unwanted males.
TB in goats
David Harwood has highlighted the situation with outbreaks of TB in goats. Much has been learned from a few outbreaks, with diagnosis following slaughterhouse suspicion or post-mortem examination at veterinary investigation laboratories. Full information for goat keepers and veterinary surgeons is available on the Society website. David indicates that in cattle, the organism initially localises in the lymph glands at the back of the throat and after a short incubation period they become infectious to others. The bovine body reacts to the infection by localising the bacterium, producing a tubercle. Infection can break out of the tubercle, usually in the lungs, and the animal becomes infectious again.
However, in affected goats, the walled-off lesions do not develop and large abscesses are produced with liquid pus which often erode quickly into the airways, with TB organisms being coughed up and breathed out into the environment. Infected goats are a very serious disease spreader to other goats in the same airspace. Spread from dam to kid in the milk from heavily infected goats, with TB of the udder, is also possible. The greatest risk of infection to clean herds is from the introduction of animals from an undetected TB-infected goat herd.
Recent events and moving forward
During COVID-19 lockdown, the GVS committee has not met. The meeting planned for June 2020 has been postponed, provisionally to 8 October 2020 at Taunton. However, the whole future for dispensing knowledge for veterinary surgeons and goat keepers is being reviewed and greater use of webinars and website alerts are being discussed. It is possible that the meetings may be condensed into a single conference each year incorporating a farm visit. Detailed developments will be available in due course.
A major initiative is to develop the Goat Health and Welfare Group that would interact with the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England. This sector group for goats would allow legislators and advisors to gain knowledge from veterinary surgeons, goat keepers, nutritionists, buildings specialists and others to bring the needs of the goat industry to the fore. It is anticipated that changes to environmental legislation and aspects of climate change will allow further development of high-quality commercial goat keeping in the UK.
The Society started with observations on goat behaviour and recent behavioural science research has shown that goats show several features and abilities associated with advanced cognition. They are very skilled at manipulating objects, have long-term memory, seek cognitive challenges and can infer the location of a reward through exclusion. Goats are also sensitive to the human attentive state, can learn from people and can perceive human facial expressions of emotion. Veterinary surgeons attending to a goat may wish to consider their facial expression and smile at the goat as well as the owner. The research has led to considerable discussion with traditional goat breeders, providing emphasis that enriching the housing environment and handling goats with care and empathy leads to happier and more productive animals.