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Summary of the October GVS meeting by David Harwood



The autumn meeting of the Goat Veterinary Society (GVS), took place at York racecourse on Thursday 24th October.  The meeting was preceded the previous day by a visit to the St Helen’s commercial dairy goat unit.  A good turnout of vets and non-vet owners / stockpersons listened to a series of papers all provoking some good discussion.


Survivability and longevity in commercial dairy goat herds – Rachel Simmons a final year student at Edinburgh undertook a survey into this subject as part of her 4th year studies, in a project funded by the GVS.  There are limited data available in the UK, and very few baseline figures for comparison, unlike the indices available to the comparable cattle sector.  Rachel visited a total of 4 large units with an average of 1800 milking does, all were housed all year, milked through a rotary parlour and had Johne’s vaccination programmes in place.  All available data that had been collected over a period between 2001 and 2013 was used, although available data did vary between units, and all was taken at “face value.”  Considering kid mortality first, the two most commonly recorded causes of death / culling were pneumonia and diarrhoea, with losses peaking between March and July. The mean culling age in the adult milking herd was recorded at 4.5 years, but it was of interest that 16.7% of the productive goats were aged over 7 years!  In this adult population, the three main reasons for culling were gangrenous mastitis, mastitis and Johne’s disease. Gangrenous mastitis was most commonly identified in the 1 – 2 year age cohort in which it made up around 54% of all losses in this group.  Johne’s disease cases not surprisingly peaked much later at around 2 – 4 years of age, but it was not surprising that many losses attributed to this disease were based on clinical signs with no laboratory or post mortem supporting evidence.  Drawing comparisons with the dairy cow sector in which mastitis, lameness and infertility are the “top three” the speaker suggested that there may have been “voluntary” culling of goats due to infertility and that this may not have been recorded, and that lameness did not appear to be a significant reason for culling.  It was recognised that this was a fairly limited study on only 4 farms using pre-existing and not requested data, nevertheless there was universal agreement that this was a really useful piece of work, and now needs to be taken further to establish some baseline figures of particular value in herd health planning.


Rural education projects in Eastern Africa – the GVS has donated to a number of overseas charities and projects in which goats have featured, and treasurer Rob Ankcorn gave a summary of his own experiences in Rwanda working on two local projects and also described the work of the charity “Send a Cow” which despite its name is also able through charitable funding to supply goats, rabbits and even bees to those needing help and support.  The efforts of those involved was clearly described in a mission statement painted onto the gates of a local agricultural training centre, this reads “To empower the rural poor, improve their living standards through appropriate, affordable and productive organic farming practices that promote environmental conservation for a healthy, progressive and united people.”  . Rwandan soil has become impoverished since the genocide as many animals were also killed, and local people are taught the value of what is around them including the value of compost and manure used to nourish impressive looking vegetable plots in simple raised beds.  A widely used forage for livestock is elephant grass, of low nutritional value and course, but palatable if chopped finely.  The send a cow project was started 25 years ago, and in addition to supplying livestock also provides the support needed to ensure they remain fit healthy and productive.  Rob finished by describing a number of case histories, including for example “Godfrey” of Uganda who was orphaned at 17 years old and was then forced to look after his younger brother.  Send a Cow taught him how to plant & tend crops, and gave him 2 goats.  Now he is becoming self-sufficient and is also training as a carpenter website:


A study of parasites in the UK – another student project this time presented by Kit Cornell a 4th year student from the University of Bristol.  A paper questionnaire had been distributed to UK goat farmers through a number of societies including the GVS and British Goat Society (BGS).  Respondents were questioned on details of endo and ectoparasites occurring on their holdings and the treatments used.  A total of 13 respondents also provided faecal samples when contacted, the samples being taken during February 2013.  The questionnaire was filled in by a fair cross section of the goat sector and included a number of small hobby farms with a handful of goats through to the larger herds with in excess of 1000 milking does.  Dairy, meat and fibre goats were also represented.  The most commonly reported endoparasites were not surprisingly worms and coccidia, but what was surprising were the number of faeces samples in February with significant worm egg counts.  Larval identification post hatching gave a roughly equal population of Teladorsagia, Trichostrongylus and Haemonchus, the latter not a worm encountered frequently in goats.  The majority of respondents used either Benzimidazole or Ivomectin groups to worm their goats, very few used Levamisole, and 73% felt that their choice of anthelmintic and its use was effective.  Moving on to ectoparasites, the speaker reported that Choroptic mange was most common.  Treatments used for ectoparasites were many and varied since there are no products with a marketing authorisation for goats, these included both farm animal and small animal products.


Methods of assessing pain in farm animals – Murray Corke from the University of Cambridge then gave a fascinating overview of some work he is currently involved with in collaboration with seven other European partners, and funded by the EU.  The project is entitled “AWIN” (animal welfare indicators).  The routine use of analgesics in animals is only a fairly recent development and mainly within the last 20 years.  Farm animals tend to hide any signs of pain since they have effectively evolved as prey animals, and become vulnerable if they appear weak or ill.  Experienced stockman can often recognise early signs of illness / pain, but they often cannot explain why.  Using sheep as their model, the Cambridge team have been looking at identifying pain biomarkers associated with footrot and acute mastitis.  Trials involved clinical examination, laboratory examination of samples including blood and wool and faeces for cytokines and other metabolites in two groups one of which used NSAIDs alongside other conventional therapies.  Supporting these approaches was a study of facial expression, particularly ear carriage, partial closing of lids and changes to cheek musculature which varied depending on severity of discomfort.  All these measurements then contributed to an overall composite pain score.  Website:


Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) – Trustee David Harwood gave a short overview of the charity whose mission statement is “To improve the welfare of all animals through veterinary science, education and debate.”  He described some of the projects currently being funded, and encouraged delegates to consider AWF when asked to recommend worthwhile animal welfare charity.  Website:


Copper metabolism in goats – Richard Laven, of Massey University and visiting the UK, described copper deficiency as one of the most commonly diagnosed mineral deficiencies in ruminants.  VIDA data between 2005 and 2012 confirmed 44 cases of deficiency (but only one of toxicity, compared to 497 (deficiency) and 387 (toxicity) in sheep, suggesting that goats are less susceptible to toxicity?  Diagnosis however is not simple, and no single test can give a definitive answer.  Signs of deficiency in goats have included depigmentation, defective keratinisation, enzootic ataxia / swayback and reduced weight gain.  Primary deficiency can occur if there is simply too little copper in the diet, but secondary deficiency occurs as a result of reduced absorption from the gut due to antagonists such as Molybdenum, Sulphur and Iron.  The speaker emphasised the importance of assessing liver copper levels either from cull livers, or from biopsy samples – (biopsies are carried out routinely in New Zealand, but currently less frequently in the UK).  Liver copper levels demonstrate the actual store of available copper, which single blood samples cannot, these can be maintained within the reference range even as liver copper levels fall dramatically.  The measurement of TCA insoluble copper can give an indication of “bound” copper if secondary copper deficiency is suspected.  Measurement of the copper dependent enzyme caeruloplasmin offers an alternative enzymatic method, but as it is also an acute phase protein, false elevation can occur following inflammatory insults.  Supplementation if required can be given either orally or by injection.  Injectable copper products give a rapid response, but the speaker did favour copper in slow release bullet format, being cheaper, safer and longer lasting.


Medicines in Goats – Nick Perkins of the Veterinary Defence Society (VDS), tackled the problem related to prescribing medicines in goats, which as a minor species have very few products for which there is a marketing authorisation.  As a result, veterinary surgeons have to rely on their judgement and the application of cascade principles, with some inherent pitfalls.  The speaker began by describing the VDS which was founded in 1868, covering its veterinary profession members against e.g. professional negligence, indemnity and professional misconduct.  The speaker concluded by making a number of recommendations, these included a need to recognise that off licence use may be associated with higher risk thus a need to explain this to the owner, and consider using  off licence consent forms, attached to Health Plans if a product is regularly used.  Choose medicines carefully and be aware of any contraindications.  Ensure you have an accurate weights (goats can be heavier than they look).  Take care in milking animals with withdrawal periods and selection.


The goat in a historical perspective – the final speaker of the afternoon was David Harwood formerly of the AHVLA, who gave a preliminary overview of the goat and its history, as a prelude to a presentation to be made to the Veterinary History Society, with a view to gauging opinions and views from GVS members.  The goat was the first livestock species to be domesticated with archaeological records going back 10,000 years ago with the oldest remains found in Iran.  Our modern domesticated goat appears to have evolved from the wild goat or Bezoar Ibex.  Domestication goats has been of great benefit to our ancestors providing milk, meat, skins to keep warm and carry water and wine, faeces to provide fuel, the ability to pull small carts, and kid skin was also an early writing paper.  Goats feature heavily in Greek mythology, and are depicted in hieroglyphs in Egyptian art.  They have also featured in the darker side of satanic worship rituals, and masonic folklore!


The next meeting of the GVS will be held in May 2014, and full papers from all speakers will appear in the GVS journal in January 2014, available free of charge to members.  Website:



David Harwood

Journal Editor / Hon PRO.




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