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The UK goat population is small, numbering around 108,000 animals in total.1 However, even with such a small population, it is important to recognise the wide variation in goat-keeping practices. Many goats are kept as pets, and at public attractions and open farms – their playful and inquisitive behaviour makes them ideal for this. In addition, the UK has a small fibre sector with both Angora and Cashmere goats, a meat sector utilising predominantly the boer breed and male kids from the dairy sector, and pedigree breeding and show herds that keep pure breed populations.
In the 1980s, the UK also began developing its commercial dairy goat sector due to supermarket demand for liquid goat milk – an item previously missing from the shelves. The dairy goat sector initially followed dairy cow husbandry and management principles, but it quickly became apparent that there were two important differences, as well as many subtle ones.
The first major difference was that goats are seasonally breeding, yet supermarkets demanded fresh milk daily. To address this, planned out-of-season breeding techniques were developed, and these have gradually improved over the years. Together with the practice of managing extended lactations, these techniques mean the industry can now ensure year-round milk production.
The second major difference was the poor immunity acquired against gastrointestinal nematodes when goats were outdoors at pasture. Even previously exposed adult goats can develop clinical parasitic gastroenteritis (PGE), resulting in the current situation wherein most commercial dairy goat herds in the UK are housed all year round to avoid the problems created by PGE.
In a paper summarised on p 267 of this issue of Vet Record, Anzuino and colleagues present the results of a survey into the husbandry and health practices on UK commercial dairy goat farms.2 They state that …
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