Things to Consider before Sending a Goat to Slaughter

By Jocelyn Jansen and Mike Draper, Animal Health & Welfare Branch; and Alexandra Reid, Food Inspection Branch, OMAFRA

Culling and transportation decisions are part of farming but sometimes there are challenges with making these decisions.  Farmers need to decide whether to treat an animal and wait for the meat and milk withdrawal times to be completed before transporting, send the animal direct to a local abattoir, cull it to a livestock auction, or euthanize on farm due to health/welfare reasons.  One of the biggest challenges is timing – when to remove the animal from the herd.  Animals are removed when their economic value falls below the goals of the herd.  However, poor production/reproduction may be the result of an underlying disease.  Making timely culling decisions is best for the welfare of the animal.  Waiting too long can result in an animal being unfit for transport and/or condemned at slaughter.

Transportation is stressful for goats as it involves change – the truck ride, the noise and the strange environment when entering a livestock auction or abattoir; as well as mixing animals from different herds.  Weak animals are less able to cope.  The welfare of the animal(s) being transported is always paramount.  There are a number of things to consider prior to loading an animal for transport.  The Ontario Humane Transport Working Group developed Guidelines for Transporting Cattle, Sheep & Goats:  Should this Animal be Loaded?  Reviewing these Guidelines will help you make informed decisions prior to shipping goats from the farm.

When shipping cull goats, farmers should be thinking about how long it may take that animal to get to its final destination – whether that final destination is another farm or a slaughter plant.  There could be multiple stops (including unloading and being re-loaded), as well as extended periods without access to feed or water.  If goats are taken to a livestock auction, this is not a final destination, and they will be transported at least once, if not several times before they reach their final destination.  Goats consigned to markets may be in the marketing chain for several days.  While many cull goats are purchased by slaughter plants, many farmers are unaware that there is an active trading network for goats in Ontario, and many goats may be purchased and then be resold at later auctions, purchased by dealers to be resold, or assembled for larger orders for slaughter facilities.  Some goats may be bought and taken back to another farm in Ontario.  In several trace back inspections relating to cull goats at auction, OMAFRA inspectors have determined that farmers are unaware of how long goats may be in the marketing chain prior to slaughter, while other trace back inspections have shown that the same group of goats have been marketed at four separate auctions.  In some cases goats may be bought at auctions and remain there for several days prior to being loaded and taken to their final destination.

What’s the best option for selling goats?  Weak or sick animals should not be loaded and transported to livestock sales or to a collection yard.  These types of goats, if they are fit for transport under provincial and federal transport regulations (see Guidelines) and fit for human consumption, should be sold directly to a slaughter plant – the OMAFRA website has a list of provincial slaughter plants.  Contact the slaughter plant directly and establish if they will buy goats and on what days.  If you do not have a local slaughter plant in your area, consigning an animal to a livestock auction, and requesting they go “direct to slaughter” should be requested.  These animals will be sold on a rail grade basis, after veterinary inspection, to a designated slaughter plant, and the farm will be paid for them if they pass post mortem inspection at the plant.  A reminder to producers to not send goats with Orf lesions to auction.  This is a zoonotic disease and many people will handle the goats along the way.  Remember, “Buyer Beware” if you are considering purchasing animals.

Generally, animals are condemned at slaughter for two reasons:  inhumane transportation resulting in prolonged suffering, and infectious diseases that indicate a risk to food safety.  A carcass may also be condemned if it doesn’t undergo the biochemical changes that turn (‘set’) muscle into meat.  Goats are less frequently condemned compared to some other species for inhumane transportation, but a non-weightbearing/three-legged lame goat does occasionally arrive at one of our abattoirs.  Goats should be shipped to slaughter before lameness reaches that point.  Most causes of condemnation of goats are for risks to food safety.  Many of the bacteria that cause respiratory or a multiple-abscess type disease in organs and joints in goats are by far the most common reason to condemn a carcass.  These infectious diseases are very common in goat herds in Ontario and normal appearing animals may be harbouring advanced disease.  Goats are also commonly condemned for emaciation and failure to set up.  Goats, particularly dairy goats, are often very thin at slaughter, for a variety of reasons – end of lactation, Johne’s disease, CAE, age and dental erosion, lameness, as well as infectious diseases like caseous lymphadenitis; and carcasses may be condemned directly in severe cases, or condemned if the carcass doesn’t have sufficient energy reserves to set into meat.  While very thin goat carcasses are premium in some markets supplied by provincial plants, an unset carcass will spoil quickly and poses a risk to human health, so we must ensure borderline cases are set before approving for human consumption.  Many of the animals described above were likely candidates for on-farm euthanasia.  If you have questions as to whether a goat should be sent for slaughter, talk to your veterinarian for advice.

Transportation and slaughter are under ever increasing scrutiny.  Making informed and wise decisions prior to sending goats for slaughter will help to maintain and strengthen the integrity of this growing industry.


**This article was written for the Spring 2016 issue of Alliance Magazine.

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