Worldwide the majority of Angora Goats are raised on range conditions, covering large tracts of semi-arid land in search of food and water. I have seen them walk miles over rough terrain to get to water. No need to trim feet there!
However, in Canada, these goats are raised in close conditions and hence require different husbandry practices to avoid health problems not encountered elsewhere. These are in the areas of parasite control, kidding, and feeding techniques that encourage kid growth and minimize fleece contamination.
When the goats are raised in semi-arid range conditions, internal parasites are not an issue. But in Canadian conditions, during the winter, animals are housed in close proximity, and in the summer, have access to limited pastures. During the winter months, the parasites are in a dormant state and usually do not cause problems. But as spring approaches, they come back to life and start laying millions of eggs, just in time to contaminate the spring pastures. Deworm your goats before you let them out to pasture in the spring usually right after kidding when the parasites come out of dormancy. When weather conditions are right, the eggs hatch and the larvae crawl up the dew covered vegetation to a height of 4 inches. One practice to avoid the ingestion of the larvae is to keep the goats off the pastures in the mornings until after the dew had dried. As the grass dries, the larvae crawl back down to the damp ground. Do not let the goats over pasture your fields forcing them to eat short forage, close to the ground at any time. Through the summer months I take stool samples to be tested every 3 weeks to monitor the parasite load and treat as necessary. The heaviest loads are encountered in late August and early September. Body condition that can be easily seen on other breeds of goats is also an indicator of parasite load. However the Angora’s fleece is very good at camouflaging a body score and it requires a hand along the spine to assess. If you feel every vertebra, the goat is malnourished either from lack of feed or too many parasites. If you notice swollen legs or a “droopy” belly, that is a condition called water belly and is a sign of heavy parasite load. If not treated, the goat will die.
Most anthelmintics are labelled for cattle, some for sheep, but none for goats. Goats metabolize drugs faster than their ruminant counterparts and require different dose rates than those on the labels. Consult with your veterinarian for drug type and dosage. As with antibiotic use, there is now parasite drug resistance in goats. Taking steps to avoid parasite intake is very important.
Coccidia are one celled parasites that invade the epithelial lining of the gut, damaging the nutrient absorbing layer which will repair as scar tissue. Scar tissue does not absorb food and the Angora will never become a vigorous animal. Angora’s do not visibly show coccidia damage until the scouring phase, which is most often too late. Kids are very susceptible to coccidia as their immune system does not kick in to defend them until about 6 months of age. Sometimes with coccidia infections, the kids seem healthy, they just are slow to grow. I check their fecal counts at 6 weeks of age and 3 months. If their counts are high, I either treat with Amprolium or sulpha drugs for the required number of days. Another option is to feed them a ration containing Rumensin, a coccidiostat. These rations are commercially available for calves. For off label usage, your veterinarian can have a prescription on file at the feed store. This ration keeps the coccidia at a low level in the intestine, preventing cell wall damage, and allowing the body time to build up its immunity.
Lice are a common problem. I am free of these as of this writing, but always on the lookout. If you have a closed herd and are louse free, it will stay that way. Lice do not appear out of the blue and can only live for a few hours off their bodies. The lice you find on goats are specific to sheep and goats. They will not live on you. The only way they are introduced to your herd is through contamination from your shearer or from a louse carrying purchased goat. Make sure your shearer is wearing clean clothes when she (he) arrives. When new goats arrive, isolate them and treat them for lice whether you see them or not. There are several systemic products available for this problem. Ivomec, Eprinex, Cydectin. However there is now some resistance. If you find that you have lice in your herd treat every one at shearing time and again after 3 weeks. For the second treatment, I shear a piece off the spine to get the liquid right to the skin.
Since their food intake has to supply both growth and mohair production, Angora does should not be bred until 1 ½ years of age. First kidders usually have 1 kid and then twins the following years. If they have twins first time around, they usually do not have enough milk for both. I have 4ft X 4ft kidding pens to allow the dam to bond with her babies. There is a 10 minute time frame after birth when bonding occurs in the dam’s brain. If one of her kids has wandered off during this time, she will not accept it as her own. Since the newborn kids are very delicate in cold weather conditions, I make sure they have colostrum within one hour of birth.
Creep feeding is very important in kid growth. They nurse on their dams but should be offered a ration free choice, in an area where they can eat without being intimidated by adults. This has many advantages. Firstly, some dams are not generous with their milk supplies, especially with twins or triplets, with some kids lacking nourishment. The creep feed supplements their intake, all the while developing their rumen. If the kids cannot reach the adult goat waterer, provide them with access to water by the time they are 3 weeks of age. If the ration contains a coccidistat, it controls that parasite and promotes good growth. I can achieve a 70 pound kid at 5 months of age with a good coat of kid hair. The creep feed also reduces the weaning trauma as they are already in the habit of eating a high protein ration. I wean the kids at 3 months of age. I keep them totally out of sight. There will be lots of whining, but it will stop. The dams need to regain some of their lost body condition before the next breeding season and the kids need to stop nursing on contaminated teats that inevitably end up lying on dirty bedding. One week after the separation, I check their stool samples for coccidia and parasite egg counts. They usually require some treatment at this time. Although the fecal egg count may be low, they may still have a high parasite load that has not reached the adult laying stage as yet. It is important to check the inside lower eyelid for signs of anemia (very pale) and to feel the spine for body condition.
When catching and handling kids it is important not to break their horns as they bleed….a lot. Buck kids usually have wide strong horns that make good handles, but always close to the head. Doelings should be caught by the hair under their chins. They should never be caught by the hair on top of their backs. That is very painful.
Feeding hay has its challenges in keeping the fleeces free of vegetation. I have tried many options over the years and crib wire seems to do the best job for me. If access to the hay has large openings, much of it will be pulled out, chewed over the back of another goat or dropped to the floor and wasted. Goats like clean food. Crib wire has 2 X 4 inch spaces that allow only the front of the goat muzzle to fit and pull small bites. Never throw the hay in the feeder with the goats close by. You may think no bits will get in their hair. But it does. Fill your hay feeder while they are eating their grain ration elsewhere or kept away outside.
The hay can be a mixture of many plants. Alfalfa is high in protein but is tricky to bale. If too dry, the leaves fall off the stems during baling and you end up with mostly hard stems that the goats do not enjoy in their mouths. If baled damp, the leaves stay on, but the bales will mold. A stand of some alfalfa mixed with grasses, brome, timothy and clovers works well. With the drought we had in Ontario last summer I had to bale some green oats to have enough forage for the winter and the goats quite enjoyed it. It is important that your hay not have moldy spots in it. Listeria is not a disease you would like to see in a goat. It is painful and fatal.
As for water, it should always be clean and available even to young kids as some may not be getting enough fluid milk. Goats will not drink dirty water, even with 1 nanny berry in it. Small water bowls work best as the water does not get stale compared to a water trough. The bowl should be high enough to prevent manure contamination. I place a concrete block by the water for the goats to step up to drink.
Ideally pastures should be separated in small fields. Let them chew one off and move to the next. They waste less that way. If you have cattle or horses, rotate the fields between them and the goats. The cattle or horses will ingest the goat parasite larvae with no ill effect and stop the cycle. I once seeded down a pasture with a variety of forages which I thought would be perfect mix for goats. When I put them in, the first thing they did was eat all the “weeds” along the fence lines. They love dandelions, lambs quarters, pigweed and even burdock. Don’t let the burdock mature as a kid can get completely stuck in the burrs and the only escape is a pair of scissors.
For grain ration, I feed a 16% dairy ration with no urea. Goats do not digest urea well, which is a cheap form of protein. Urea is the nitrogen compound that is excreted in urine from the breakdown of protein in mammalian bodies including our own. In the winter, I feed ½ lb /animal every other day and continue to do so for 2 months after kidding. By then they are usually on pasture. The dams will lose a lot of body condition after kidding and will require good hay for milk production.
Breeding and kidding
All males are separated from the females at the end of July. Angora bucks usually start their rut at the end of August, sometimes a bit earlier. The does usually start their heats in September. The saying “when the frost hits the pumpkin it’s time for…………..” is very true for Angora goats. You will see a lot of tails flagging the day after the first hard frost. Gestation is 150 days and they are pretty dead on, but if there’s a full moon they might wait a few days extra. I’ve had 8 does deliver on one afternoon.
The preferred presentation is the swan dive position. However one front leg and a head works as well as 2 back legs (hooves first) in the breech position. When breech you want it to be quick as the kid may suffocate with his head stuck inside too long. I have enough experience with kiddings now, that I think I could moonlight as a midwife. The only presentations that will not pass are sideways or a head twisted back. Going in and turning the kids around at first is intimidating but as you build up your confidence, it’s not that difficult. If you can’t manage, call the vet. She should pass her placenta within 2 hours. If it has not passed within 24 hours, call your veterinarian. Goats tend to eat their placenta, but if you are there, remove it from the pen. I have had one incident of the placenta obstructing the rumen which can be fatal.
Predators and fencing
Common predators are neighbouring dogs running free, coyotes, coywolves and wolves. I have experienced losses from dogs. People move to the country and think their pets can now roam free. In Ontario you are allowed to shoot any dog that is chasing your goats. Call the police to make reports of dog chases, attacks and kills. If you know who the dog belongs to, the police will advise the owners of the Livestock Protection Act. In Ontario any dog that attacks livestock is to be put down and the dog owner is responsible for damages including all vet bills arising from an attack. Depending where you live, you could have problems with coyotes and wolves. All casualties should be left where they are and reported to the local livestock assessor. He will come to the scene and write a report for you to be compensated for damage.
To avoid predator losses you should invest in a good livestock guard dog such as the Great Pyrenees, Maremma, or Anatolian Shepherd to name a few. Choose a dog that has been raised with sheep or goats and has bonded with them. They are not pets. If you get a puppy and your goats have not been exposed to dogs, you have to watch that the dog is not attacked. On the other side of the coin, sometimes growing pups enjoy chasing the kids for play. A habit to be stopped on the spot. I purchased an electric collar and the chasing game stopped after 2 zaps. Once they have bonded with their new family, they will protect them to the death.
Other possibilities are donkeys or llamas.
I have always used the old fashioned page wire fence. The regular 8 wire fence does allow the kids to creep out, which is not usually a problem as they always return to mom. There is a 10 wire sheep and goat fence which keeps goats in and predators out. Since Angora’s have horns, it is wise to keep an eye out or an ear open to a head stuck in the fence. There’s always one….. Some use the various types of electric fence. When the goats are in full fleece, their hair will insulate them from the shock unless they touch the wire with their nose or leg. Some use a page wire for the outside perimeter of the field and electric wires within the field.
Angora Goats are amazing creatures that are most efficient at turning vegetation into lustrous hair protein. Imagine a 100 pound female producing 15 to 20 pounds of hair per year, plus producing 2 kids and feeding them for 3 months. I don’t think any breed of sheep can compare with that type of turn over. Unfortunately their numbers are decreasing worldwide. I’ve been raising them for 34 years and have greatly improved the breed for conformation, mothering instinct and fine hair. I think my body will only allow me another 5 years maximum. Hopefully along the way some new young blood will take over the task and keep the genetics going. In the meantime, should you require any advice on rearing these beautiful creatures, I would be happy to respond.