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Care of Goats


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Tropical Africa contains one-third of the world's population of goats and one-sixth of the population of sheep. On average there is one goat or sheep on every ten hectares of land in Africa. Meat production in Africa from goats and sheep combined, is estimated at 1.15 million tonnes. This is approximately one-sixth of world production. Milk from these animals, at just under two million tonnes, is approximately one-seventh of world production and skins represents about one-sixth of world production. Clearly goats are a very important part of African agriculture and as goats become increasingly integrated with crop production on the majority of small farms in Africa their roles in food production, income and utilisation of crop residues become more important.

Goats and sheep have the ability to provide sufficient meat, milk, skins and fertilizer for a smallholder's own use, with perhaps a little surplus left for sale. There are many reasons why small ruminants are more convenient than cattle for the smallholder:

  1. They are cheaper to buy and replace and easier to obtain than cattle.

  2. They reproduce at an early age, more frequently and have more young.

  3. They produce manageable amounts of meat, milk, skins and fertilizer for family use or sale.

  4. They can survive on low quality foods or in difficult conditions on relatively small amounts of food.

  5. They integrate well with both crops and other livestock production

  6. Their small size makes them ideal for women and children to keep or assist with

  7. Small ruminants also provide a ideal form of investment that avoids the risk of loss in unstable economies and a means of easily realisable cash for farmers with no access to banking facilities.

In Africa, goats are kept for milk as well as for meat. Goat milk is very digestible and is especially good for the children, the elderly and the sick. This is because the fat is distributed in small globules throughout the milk making it much easier to digest than any other ruminant milk. The meat is also low in fat and therefore easily digestible. Despite their hardy reputation however, goats do not like getting wet and chilled. They are very susceptible to pneumonia, probably more so than sheep, and this can be a major cause of death in flocks.

Choosing a breed

Again this is probably more dependent on what is available locally than anything else. Local breeds are adapted to local conditions which often make them more disease or worm-resistant than imported breeds. However, if an improvement in milk or meat production is desired then keeping exotics or crossing with exotics for those desired characteristics is an accepted practice. But if local breeds are crossed with exotic breeds the 'up-graded' progeny will require better feeds and greater health care since they will not tolerate poor feeding and diseases as well as local breeds.

Management comprises all aspects involved in the rearing of animals including their feeding, breeding, health, housing and general husbandry. Different types of production management are:

1. Free grazing
Provided there is adequate land, free grazing allows animals to select and eat the best food available. They can select the most palatable vegetation, and their food intake is limited only by the time allowed for grazing. Labour input is low with animals let out of their enclosure in the morning and shut in again at night. The disadvantage of unsupervised grazing is that animals can also access vegetation they are not supposed to eat such as growing trees and neighbour's vegetables. Free grazing animals are also easily stolen, killed on the road or eaten by predators so losses can be high.

2. Shepherded grazing
This requires the highest labour input and can be a problem where labour is also required to carry out other farming and household tasks. This can be overcome by neighbours amalgamating groups of animals and taking it in turns for one person to supervise all the animals. Grazing should be of an eight-hour duration to allow adequate intake of food.

3. Tethered grazing
This requires little labour, but animals should be tethered on areas of good quality fodder and should be moved two or three times each day so they can have sufficient vegetation to select and eat.

4. Zero grazing
Also known as 'cut-and-carry', this system is quite labour intensive as enough fresh food must be cut and carried each day to provide a proper level of food intake. Household waste can also be fed under with this regime. The system requires a high level of management to ensure the animals are kept clean, well fed and well watered but it allows for much closer monitoring of animals for breeding and sickness. Keeping animals on slatted floors, which is the best method, allows them to remain drier and cleaner and greatly reduces worm infection. This system also prevents losses due to theft and predation.


The age at which goats are ready to mate depends on breed and their level of nutrition and therefore bodyweight and condition. Male kids in good condition can sometimes reach puberty as early as three to four months. If they have not been castrated males should be separated away from the females before this time in order to prevent early mating which weakens them. Semen at this stage is not particularly viable. Females goats in good condition can also reach puberty at three months (nine months for a ewe) but poor feeding will result in later puberty. Females should not be mated until they are physically large enough to cope with both the pregnancy and rearing of the young. If mated too young the female may remain stunted and any young born will tend to be small with a lower chance of survival. She may also have difficulty in conceiving again. Good feeding is essential throughout pregnancy particularly in the last few weeks and the early part of lactation to ensure that young are healthy and strong and the milk supply for them is plentiful.


Animals which have continuous access to good quality food are less likely to become ill. A number of factors affect the health of small ruminants, the most important of which are feeding and general management. Other factors include: Intensity of production; Age of animals; Breed; Weather/climate;

Contact with other animals. Prevention of diseases is much more effective than trying to cure sick animals. Good husbandry and understanding the main diseases facing goats and sheep and taking preventive steps will reduce the risk of animals becoming sick. Many diseases can be vaccinated against, these include: diseases like pulpy kidney, enterotoxaemia, blackleg and also foot-and-mouth disease. Maintaining clean housing and grazing reduce parasite and disease build-up and the regular treatment of stock with anthelmintics will further reduce parasite and disease challenges.


The type of housing required will depend on the type of management system under which the animals are kept. Where flocks are grazed out during the day, only rudimentary night time shelter that provides protection against the weather and predators needs to be provided. Other systems require a higher level of construction and management. All housing needs to be well ventilated, light, well drained and easily cleaned. The following points are important in providing housing:

  1. Sites should be well drained

  2. Rammed earth floors must be dry and drain well. Bedding should be of dry straw / wood shavings.

  3. Raised slatted floors of wood or concrete should be constructed so that the gaps are narrow enough to prevent young stock getting their feet trapped

  4. Locally available material for the construction, particularly of the roof is preferable. Galvanised tin, whilst allowing for water collection, creates very hot conditions underneath it

  5. Goats will chew housing materials, any timber used must be free of toxic substances or lead paint.

  6. Housing must be cleaned regularly to avoid build-up of dung with its infections and parasites

  7. Housing must be large enough to take all animals comfortably as crowding leads to bullying.

Routine Tasks

In addition to the daily tasks of feeding, watering, cleaning and checking the general health of the stock, the hooves of goats need to be trimmed regularly depending on the terrain used by the animals. Hard, stony ground will wear down hooves quickly compared to pasture. Animals should be checked for ticks and maggots and any found removed either individually, or by use of appropriate insecticide for heavy infestations. Any wounds caused by them should be treated with appropriate antiseptic. Regular worming should also be part of routine husbandry.

Small ruminants are hardy and adaptable animals. As with any form of farming, careful attention to detail and good management are essential if animals are to thrive and provide farmers.


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From: Rural Radio Resource Pack 24