A new Best Management Practices (BMP) manual for meat and dairy goat producers will help expand the goat industry by providing guidelines on how to manage production and health issues in the barn.
Developed by a committee of producers, veterinarians, researchers and government representatives, the manual includes simple, straight-forward recommendations on topics like housing, nutrition, health, breeding protocols, biosecurity and record-keeping.
“Best Management Practices are a great tool to help both new and existing goat producers with continuous improvement of their herds and their operations,” says Anton Slingerland, President of Ontario Goat. “By applying recommendations from the manual, producers can have a positive impact on herd health, food safety and biosecurity, which will help us not only sustain but grow Ontario’s goat industry.”
Veterinarian Dr. Kelly Barrat of Heartland Veterinary Services in Listowel was part of the development team and says the committee tried to make the manual an all-encompassing package to allow producers to learn a bit about everything when it comes to goat production
“The BMPs can help with disease prevention as well as things like housing and goat comfort, which are important. The goal is to promote a better quality of product,” she explains.
Biosecurity in particular is important, as it is becoming a topic that producers need to be more aware of, and biosecurity practices are included throughout the manual. The BMPs, says Barratt, offer producers tips on how to manage their particular barns so they can control disease and health problems and minimize their impacts. And the recommendations were designed to be implemented easily on most Ontario goat farms without being overly burdensome.
“Some farmers may have to use a bit of creativity and ingenuity on their farm but what is in the manual are not unreasonable expectations,” she explains. “These are things we see being done on successful goat farms in Ontario. Maybe everyone can’t implement every single one but the manual gives options and ideas for what can be done.”
Blain Albin, who raises meat goats on his farm south of Hamilton, was one of the producer representatives on the manual’s steering committee, which helped direct and give input into how the BMP recommendations were developed.
“The manual as a whole is a great thing to have. There are a lot of things in there producers can use, especially new producers, and it’s a whole package from which you can pick and choose what works best for your farm,” he says. “There are also a lot of references where you can go for additional information. The fact that it’s all in one place in one central manual is really useful.”
For dairy goat producer Dirk Boogerd, who farms in partnership with his parents and milks 550 goats on their farm east of Embro, the project offered a good way to get involved in his industry, as well as learn some new things he could apply to his own operation.
“I think producers need to be part of the industry and get involved with programs like this. There’s always something new to learn every day,” he explains. “Using the BMPs is a good way to benchmark against other producers and to learn what the standards are for the goat industry, whether for housing, feeding, nutrition, etc. and how you can make those work for your own operation.”
Boogerd says a key part of the goat industry is knowing the cost of production and how to keep proper records. Many of the BMPs in the manual were things he was already doing on his farm, but just needed a bit of tweaking to make them better.
“Pest control was one that we did do already but tweaked to make it work better for us. And the same goes for record-keeping. I’m not as good at it as I should be but it’s a very important BMP,” he admits. “Our industry has a very fine line of profitability so you need to make your operation work as best you can to try to make that dollar.”
For Albin, the most interesting chapter in the manual was the one focused on goat management, which includes breeding and animal care. As a meat producer, he’s keen for his does to have as many kids as possible and he’s looking forward to applying some of the techniques in the manual.
“There are some breeding techniques that I will be using, especially with synchronizing does,” he says, adding he’s currently experimenting with using lighting techniques to induce heat in does outside of their natural breeding season.
In addition to being directly beneficial to goat producers, the manual will also be a valuable resource to veterinarians advising producers, believes Dr. Barratt. Although she learned about livestock diseases and animal husbandry in vet school, the manual’s level of detail will help her in future work with goat producers.
“This manual is not only a valuable resource for producers but also for vets. It can help when you’re advising clients and making recommendations on health and management protocols or barn design, for example,” she says. “As a vet who treats goats, I’ve found this extremely useful because unless you’re from a goat farm, you may not have an understanding of these principles.”
“There is a lot of common sense within the BMPs but I know it would have been helpful as a new producer when we started with the goat industry to have something like this as a backdrop to everything you’re planning on doing,” states Boogerd. “So if I could help someone else out by participating on this committee, hopefully someone else can get ahead as well.”
Copies of the manual will be available from Ontario Goat.
Investment in this project has been provided in part by Industry Councils from Ontario and Quebec, which deliver the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP) on behalf of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Written by Lilian Schaer for Ontario Goat.