Strong biosecurity protocols can protect your goat herd

Keeping livestock healthy is an ongoing challenge and the cost of a disease like Caprine-Arthritis-Encephalitis (CAE) on a goat farm can be staggering. Now, a new report has identified biosecurity and emergency preparedness gaps in Ontario’s goat sector – and provided some recommendations on how to best address them.

The study, headed by the Ontario Veal Association on behalf of Ontario Goat, Ontario Veal Association, Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency and Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, focused its analysis of the goat sector on dairy goat farms and identified seven key risk areas for transmission of CAE and other economically significant goat diseases.

Risk areas include breeding, kidding and kid rearing; sanitation in and around the milking parlour; animal care issues such as hoof trimming and tattooing; herd management knowledge like isolation of disease-positive animals; farm management and sourcing farm labour from other livestock farms.

The goat sector, although growing, is still a small part of the livestock industry, which means the availability of goat-specific veterinary products is limited. But most dairy goat farmers in the province already have some level of biosecurity protocols in place due to an eradication program for CAE that is underway.

Still, says a goat producer from the St. Thomas area, continuous improvement and vigilance are critical to staying ahead of herd health threats.

“Every goat producer does have some protocols in place because of the CAE program, but there are a wide range of protocols being used,” says Pete Kerkvliet, who volunteered on the project’s producer working group. “It’s important to be constantly updating and refining them to help improve the health of our animals. A healthier animal will give you more efficient production, which means higher volumes of quality milk. “

Kerkvliet’s protocols for CAE include being present at the birth of kids into order to separate them from the does right away and move them to an isolated area.  This keeps them from being licked by the mothers and from drinking colostrum, both of which enable the spread of disease. Colostrum is heat-treated before being fed to the kids, who also receive pasteurized goat milk or milk replacer. Individual needles are used on each animal.

“We use these protocols for CAE but they can also be used to prevent the spread of other diseases, such as Johne’s, for example,” says Kerkvliet, who milked dairy cows prior to switching his farm over to dairy goat production.

Producers are encouraged to source disease-free bucks and replacement animals for their farms. Another key biosecurity tip is controlling on-farm visitors. On Kerkvliet’s farm, no clothing from other facilities of the same animal type is permitted and any visitors must wear a pair of plastic boots, which he provides, and clean clothes. Visitors also have no interaction with the goats, which includes a strict no petting rule.

Although biosecurity is not mandatory, Kerkvliet encourages all goat farmers to work towards strengthening the protocols on their operations.

“Disease can affect the quality of life of the animals on the farm, for sure, but it is also worth it economically to work towards eradication and prevention,” he says. “I can’t put an estimate on it, but it would be quite shocking to most producers as to what the true cost of disease would be to an operation.”

His one key takeaway to fellow producers on the subject of disease preparedness? Be diligent.

“The vectors can be quite numerous as far as the spread of disease goes. You can easily take something to the stockyard from your farm or bring something back on your trailer,” he says. “If you have a clean herd, do your best to maintain it. The more disease-free herds we have here in Ontario, the easier it is to keep that status. But you have to be diligent. Always.”

The study also examined biosecurity and emergency preparedness in the sheep, veal and beef sectors. This was the first step in a new, multi-phase project partnership between Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, Ontario Veal, Ontario Goat, Ontario Rabbit and Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency to identify, quantify and address biosecurity gaps and build the industry’s emergency preparedness capabilities. A joint approach was chosen as there are many common issues related to animal disease and biosecurity across these five livestock sectors.

Work is now underway to examine on-farm costs associated with disease and what savings improved biosecurity protocols might represent to farmers. Funding for this project was provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Adaptation Programming and administered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council.

More information on the report and on biosecurity and disease preparedness is available by contacting Jennifer O’Rourke at 519-824-2942 or


Tips for keeping your goat herd disease-free

  • Avoid direct animal contact.
  • Know the disease status of surrounding herds so you know what kind of diseases are in the area.
  • Try to source disease-free animals to bring into your herd.
  • Use disease-negative bucks for breeding.
    • Restrict visitors into your barn. Post effective signage and biosecurity requirements for visitors. Use a log book to track visitors.
    • Use different clothing and/or boots in different production areas.
    • Isolate sick animals from the rest of the herd.
    • Use a rodent control program to keep feed and water free of contamination.
    • Regularly clean alleyways leading to the milking area.
    • Keep composting areas for deadstock away from regular manure storage.

Written by Lilian Schaer for Ontario Goat.


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