Questions of Responsibility
Maxine Kinne

The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Goat breeders buy, sell, trade and make other kinds of deals, and each transaction bears great potential for satisfaction or disaster. The crucial element in buying and selling is, above all else, good health. Without that, animals will never realize their potential. Buy a goat infected with any one of a number of diseases, and it can destroy your entire herd. Some of the most devastating diseases are carried silently for months or years, until some factor causes animals to exhibit clinical signs of the disease.

Beyond good health, animals should be fit for their intended purpose. This can only be guaranteed to a certain point, and mostly in proven animals. In both proven adults and developing youngsters, there may be circumstances in the new home that affect productivity. A few examples: difference in climate, level of nutrition, exposure to parasites, and level of management.

Young and unproven animals are riskier buys, and guarantees may only be promises. Often, all you have to go on is the performance of its sire, dam, siblings and other relatives.

A quote I've overheard numerous times over the years: "I know he/she doesn't look like much right now, but he/she has the genetic potential to produce really well." This statement carries a promise of some mysterious improvement in either the goat or its offspring, "if it is bred to the right doe/buck." Invariably, the beneficiaries of this information are people who have not yet developed an eye for what they are looking at, and they may or may not get whatever it is they thought they wanted. Folks, you're going to have to do your homework to figure out precisely what you want in order to have a fighting chance of getting it.


Buying

It is a good idea for beginners to start with the kind of goat that is easy to operate. This is the way to gain experience and develop confidence in your abilities to recognize and deal with a variety of situations. Avoid the highest-producing, top-of-the line animals which often require a high level of management to perform at peak potential. There is much to learn, but your education can be accelerated through extensive reading, accumulating a few necessary skills, and developing a network of friends, acquaintances and professionals whose brains you can pick. The only thing you can't buy is experience - that has to be earned. Discipline yourself to be observant, research the facts and tap available resources.

Once you get some experience under your belt, you can buy or breed up to a flashier model. If there is one truism about animal breeders who know what they're doing, it's that they are seldom completely satisfied with the current batch and always looking for ways to improve. Buying from people who accept the status quo is going to keep you at their level. It may be helpful to buy locally, if you can, at least until you master the basics.

Everyone's utlimate goal should be to acquire goats in perfect health, then manage them in a way to keep them as healthy as possible for as long a life as possible. You will have to live with bad, uninformed decisions every day for at least as long as you have the goat.

Buyers don't have to be at the mercy of the seller, although it can seem like that. You have the right to request testing for specific diseases. Certain health testing is required when shipping animals between states, but such testing is often of little value to an ongoing goat herd health program because some diseases are so slow to develop. Begin with a set of questions about the health of the target herd. If the herd has been subject to disease, either avoid buying from them or educate yourself so you can ask intelligent questions about it and understand the answers.

If the herd has identified and working at or completely eradicated a disease problem, they may well be worth doing business with. At least the herd owner is being honest about it. It's the herds with ill thrift and/or death from unknown causes that can be a big problem.

The worst diseases you can unwittingly bring home, due to their slow incubation period, are: Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE), Caseous Lymphadenitis (CLA) and Johne's Disease. Scrapie is a disease very rarely found in goats, but you need to be aware of it, too. Infected goats may appear normal, healthy and productive for months or years while shedding disease-causing organisms into their environment, passing them to offspring and infecting your other animals. Testing can be unreliable during early stages of these diseases, and there are no practical treatments or cures. The best insurance you can get when you buy goats is that the seller has tested for CAE and Johne's and that the herd has been symptom-free for many years and has tested disease-free over a period of time. All herd owners who test for diseases haven't necessarily had the diseases but are trying to establish a firm basis on which to guarantee the health status of their herds. Unless a seller has had a symptom-free herd for many years and/or has tested for diseases over a period of years, it is probably unwise for him to advertise freedom from specific diseases. Other less deadly diseases and parasites to avoid are: chlamydia, mycoplasma, soremouth, toxoplasma and cryposporidia.

Avoid buying anything at auctions! You will get no information about the health of the herd of origin, what disease exposures the animals have incurred, their immunization status (if any), or their performance. Older animals, especially, are being culled for the lowest price an owner can get, and consigners must not care about the future of the animal(s) sent to an uncertain fate at an auction sale. Yes, you could get lucky. Or you could end up cursing the very day you were born.

Aside from testing for the most serious diseases, there are a number ways to observe the health of the herd you want to buy from. Are the animals bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, active, alert, sociable and "happy"? Glossy haircoats and trimmed feet? Do they move well? Is the barn clean? Plenty of ventilation? Or are they dull and sluggish, living in dark, filthy surroundings? Does the animal for sale look different from the rest of the herd? Is it being sold for faults in appearance or inadequacy in past or potential performance? Bad habits?

Get to know the seller and his herd management. If he has many problems, you may end up dealing with the same ones. Do they have to bottle raise kids from mothers who have bad deliveries? Do they have unthrifty or dead animals due to parasites? Deaths that go undiagnosed?

Look for well-managed, healthy-looking herds to purchase from. People who take pride in their herds manage them so that they will be happy and productive. Expect the seller to be willing to offer after-sale support and helpful pointers to sources of information.

Performance is the key. How does your intended purchase perform? Do both parents and grandparents perform at the same level? Could your animal share the genetic problems of their ancestors or siblings? Take a very hard look at relatives' production and reproduction when you are buying an animal you intend to breed.

Sit down with the seller and write out a purchase contract! With every detail in writing, no one can be accused later of having a faulty memory.

Selling

Sellers have serious obligations to their buyers. Their duties include offering healthy, problem-free animals whose history, qualities and potentials are accurately represented. The kinds of animals you sell and how they perform for the buyers is what makes or breaks your reputation. But that's not all. How you do business is also very important. It's all about honesty and integrity.

First time buyers are the most vulnerable of all - do not take advantage of them. You acquire far more respect by sending people elsewhere if you cannot meets their needs, so don't wheedle the customer into accepting a lower quality than he is shopping for. On the other hand, some buyers have not developed concrete ideas about what they want or why they want it. Educate them about the characteristics and needs of your particular breed, strain or bloodline so buyers can make decisions they can be happy with. For instance, dairy and meat goats often have high nutritional needs for production which would be detrimental to fiber producers and pets. Dairy goat management is also much more labor and time intensive than for other breeds.

Point out obvious and inconspicuous faults, and be ready to deal with developmental defects that may arise later, like abnormalities of the teats/udder, reproductive system, mouth, etc. If the price is reduced because of a particular inadquacy, be sure to make the buyer aware of it.

Potential is an iffy quality. When selling an unproven animal, make sure the buyer understands the concept of "maybe", and be prepared to compensate the buyer if the animal performs much below what you guaranteed.

If we sell healthy animals, deal with integrity, and treat customers with respect, they will be satisfied customers. The Golden Rule is a timeless concept in all phases of life, and goat dealings are no exception.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

 


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