Eliminating CAE can boost goat herd profitability

New cost calculator illustrates on-farm financial impacts of CAE

The cost and effort involved in ridding a goat herd of the Caprine Arthritis and Encephalitis (CAE) Virus are well worth the investment according to a new animal disease model that puts real costs on the financial impact the disease can have.

A low impact outbreak of CAE in a 100 head goat breeding and meat herd could cost the operation up to $710 and a high impact outbreak up to $28,900. Those figures were generated by the model based on 2010 cost and revenue data provided by real Ontario producers.

The program, built in an Excel spreadsheet, calculates the financial impact of moderate or severe outbreaks of specific diseases on goat, beef, veal, sheep and rabbit farms. This includes CAE in goats, Bovine Viral Diarrhea in cattle, Mycoplasmosis in veal, Q Fever in sheep and Pasteurellosis in rabbits.

Producers must input a series of data in the spreadsheet, such as feed costs, average daily gain, mortality rates and others depending on the particular commodity, in order for the model to generate results.

Aileen Dekkers and her husband Jake milk 330 does on their farm near Caledonia in Haldimand County. They were part of a group of producers who participated in the development of the model by sharing data from their farm, including the number of does, yearlings, live births, abortions, deaths and culls; the birth weight and average weaning age of kids; feed costs; the cost of raising replacement stock; and animal health medication and veterinary expenses.

They currently have a moderate infection rate in their herd and although the model will still undergo further refinement, Aileen admits to being shocked at the financial results it produced.

“Researchers say that CAE-positive goats will produce almost 25 per cent less milk over their lifetime than a negative animal. At this stage in its development, the calculator showed us that being CAE-free would be three times as profitable as a high rate of infection,” she says. “As it stands now, that kind of result is shocking. We could have one third fewer animals and feed and veterinary costs and still have the same bottom line if our herd was CAE-free.”

The Dekkers are now working towards CAE elimination. It’s a decision each goat producer must make individually, says Aileen, but it’s the advice they give to people who are interested in getting into the dairy goat industry.

“Each goat producer has to decide for themselves if there is merit in becoming CAE free. It is costly, both in terms of time and money, but if the cost calculator is even somewhat correct, it certainly makes sense to become CAE free,” she says. “We always strongly advise people to make sure they start with CAE negative animals as we know the costs and we now know the advantages of being CAE free.”

What is CAE and what to look out for

CAE virus infects cells of the lung, central nervous system, joints and mammary glands. The most common signs of the disease include progressive lameness in adult goats, and joint swelling and neurological symptoms of brain infection in kids two to four months of age. These symptoms often lead to death or the need for humane euthanization.

Less commonly, animals may exhibit mastitis and decreased milk production, chronic coughing, difficulty breathing, and progressive weight loss that can occur independently of other clinical symptoms. Once an animal has the CAE virus, it results in a persistent, lifelong infection. Most goats don’t show any symptoms but can be carriers, which means they can transmit the disease to other animals in the herd.

CAE can be shed in milk, feces, blood, saliva and other bodily fluids. Transmission usually happens from doe to kid, but can also occur via direct contact with infected animals and contaminated equipment. The most common method of spread, however, is when kids drink virus infected goat milk and colostrum from the mother. It is also thought that CAE can be spread through contamination of milking equipment, needles, tattooing tools and breeding with infected bucks.

Isolation protocols

  • Isolate sick animals from the rest of the herd.
  • Separate newborns from does immediately following birth to avoid transfer of pathogens from mother to offspring.
  • Mixed colostrum or colostrum from unknown CAE status animals should not be fed to negative kids.
  • Quarantine or isolate new additions or animals returning to the farm from other locations, like shows, events etc.
  • Implement enhanced biosecurity between quarantine areas and the rest of your herd to avoid disease spread.
  • Avoid indirect contact with manure or bodily fluids from sick animals. Sanitize tools and equipment after using in sick areas and move into quarantine areas only after you’ve completed work in areas with healthy animals.
  • Milk negative animals ahead of sick ones. Keep milk from sick animals separate.
  • Restrict access to your production areas and keep track of visitors.
  • Properly sanitize equipment, especially when moving between healthy and sick animals. Ensure healthy and sick goats to not eat or drink from the same feed or water sources.
  • Train your staff in biosecurity measures.

This project is part of a new, multi-phase project partnership between Ontario Goat, Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, Ontario Veal Association, Ontario Rabbit, and Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency to identify, quantify and address biosecurity gaps and build the livestock industry’s emergency preparedness capabilities.

Funding was provided in part through Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of several Growing Forward programs in Ontario.

To access resources on reducing disease risk to your herd or for more information, please contact the Ontario Livestock Alliance at (519) 824-2942 or info@livestockalliance.ca.

Written by Lilian Schaer for Ontario Goat.

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