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FREE GOATS - FRIEND OR FOE?

By: Gary Pfalzbot
Web Site:GoatWorld
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"Free goat" or "free goats" available to a good home are quite often seen in ads as well as in private situations. While I do not want to rain on the entire concept of freely giving a goat to a good home for a good reason, I would like to point out a few tips and facts that may help a person decide whether or not "free" is really the best option from which to choose.

There are a variety of people raising goats for a variety of reasons. From the person who just wants to have a goat or two around the place as a pet to the people who raise goats for specific purposes such as breeding, meat, milk, fiber, etc. There is also a certain type of people that are just wanting to "get thier feet wet" to see if goats will become a good hobby or endeavor as well as the youngster wanting to get started with a 4H of FFA project. No matter the purpose, there are specific diseases and conditions that make the prospect of a "free goat", not so enticing and not so free.

The three specific diseases that come to mind are Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL), Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE), and Johnes Disease. Each of these should be considered a direct threat not only to the "free goat", but to any other goats that are either present on the prospective farm, or the future expansion of the herd.

While at least one of these diseases can be directly passed to humans and other animals as well, the other diseases can be passed throughout the other goats in a herd and are either uncurable (at this writing), and/or remain an active bacteria living in the soil for many years - difficult to eradicate.

For the person just wanting to get started with goats and possibly looking to expand in the future, the ramifications can be devastating. It will be very difficult to maintain a healthy herd and have peace of mind that the farm or ranch will be disease free. For the person just wanting to add a few more head to the herd at the cheapest cost possible, it is also a devastating prospect - the risk of infecting otherwise healthy goats is great.

Many professional and herd health conscious breeders and owners will simply refuse at great length, to accept any goat that has not been recently tested as a "disease free" animal. They fully understand the complications and heartbreak one dear, sweet and beautiful (but infected) goat can pose to the health of their herd. These same breeders more often than not are also the same breeders that advise to NOT purchase animals from stockyards, auctions, and other facilities where an innumerable amount of animals pass through on a regular basis - the risk of disease is just too great.

But, on the bright side (and as I said, I don't want to completely condone the idea of free goats), some goats that are offered for free may be disease free. The reasons for parting with these goats in the first place may be for reasons other than disease. Some simply find that goats are not for them. Some rid themselves of their goats for their own health issues. The list is long for "good" reasons.

In my opinion, if you are considering getting a free goat, please, for the sake of the goat industry and your own well-being, have the goat tested. Goats that carry these incurable, communicable and often unmanageable diseases need to be disposed of (and even though I have a soft heart) through a means where they will not turn back up in a herd that is to be used for production purposes. By following this simple rule, you will be saving someone the heartache of finding out that their goats have become ill all because "they didn't know".

To put it bluntly and in terms that I think everyone can understand, think of the AIDS virus. If you know that a person has AIDS, I seriously doubt that you would be inclined to enter a sexual relationship with that person for fear of becoming infected yourself. Some of the diseases that goats can carry are no different in scope and should be treated accordingly. If we are going to further popularize the goat and goatkeeping throughout the world, we need to take extra precaution before we let goats enter our farms and premises.

ADDENDUM for 2008 - Since this article came out and was published, I've had a number of questions to "add more". There is much ado about "where to get goats" and in this day and age, there are more and more animal auctions which are, and are not, directly related to the slaughter channel for market animals. If you plan to buy at an auction or sale barn because that is the only outlet you can find in your area, do so with caution.

Many auctions and sale barns are direct suppliers to the slaughter market; buyers are mainly there for one purpose and that is to obtain animals for slaughter. But there are sale barns and auctions that are considered "dual purpose". That is, while they do supply any given number of animals for slaughter channels, they also focus on supplying to local markets for raising animals, be it pet or show.

The first time buyer should beware and use common judgement before considering an impulse purchase. Does the auction or sale barn seem to be kept clean? How does the staff treat the animals during their stay? Is the stay at the auction long term (overnight) or short term (a few hours or less)? How are the animals kept? Bunched together with many or kept in reasonable numbers where breeding is less likely? These are just a few good questions you should ask yourself.

While goats in particular such as the Boer breed which are considered to be destined for slaughter in most circumstances anyway, perhaps need a bit less scrutiny for diseases such as CL (CL is considered to infect those carcass parts which would not be included in meat processing anyway), emphasis should still be placed on the fact that there is a growing contingent of goat keepers determined on eradicating this disease as best as they can. But for pet and show animals, the scrutiny is much, much higher and it is highly recommended that the person seeking out quality, disease free animals, find a reputable breeder of disease free, quality goats. It is really the only way you can be guaranteed of starting out with a clean herd and ending with a clean herd.

This article recently appeared in Spring 2008 edition of "The Memo", the official magazine of the NPGA - National Pygmy Goat Association. If you raise Pygmy goats, please show your support for this fine organization.

About the author: Gary Pfalzbot is the webmaster of GoatWorld. He has raised goats over the years, been involved with 4-H (as a young boy) and currently resides near Branson, Missouri where he and his wife Pam raise a few breeds of goats, mainly precipitated for the control of Kudzu vine.

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