Gala goats at Apiculture Research Institute Headquarters, KALRO Baringo

For almost a year now, I have been keeping goats. I am aware that there is a vibrant goat ‘nyama choma’ (roast meat) business in Kenya and that’s why I have a ranch in Kiserian, Kajiado county.  I do both indoors and outdoor feeding whereby at times I give them food to eat in confinement like during drought or when there are reported cases of predators in the neigbourhood and other times I allow them to graze in the open. I would like to learn more about goat keeping. [Kimani Stephen, Kajiado County]

Thank you Kimani for reading The Smart Harvest and for your timely question. Many farmers, just like you begin from a point of market information. This is nonetheless a good trigger because we encourage our farmers to go into farming with the ultimate goal of making money. But is always good to be armed with health information too, because without this you are likely to make costly assumptions and end up missing the money in the end.

Goats are relatively easy animals to keep. They require relatively small space and in a ranch setting they can make do with the bushes and shrubs and give you good meat that the market will certainly love. Well-established ranches are making a killing from branding their chevon or mutton after their ranches and adding a significant price to their products. It goes without saying that goats raised in ranches have sumptuous meat. In addition, goats mature fast and can really reproduce fast and, in the process, grow your investment quickly. 

A good house

While during the day they will be out in the field roaming around and grazing, at night they need a shelter that is well-ventilated and one that also protects them from bad weather conditions like rains and predators that love their meat just like humans do. Ensure that there is a good flow of air in their housing.  Poor ventilation will result in the accumulation of ammonia, and this can predispose them to respiratory tract infections like pneumonia. Keep the bedding dry to avoid foot conditions.

Goats during Kimalel goat Auction in Kimalel, Baringo county. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Goats are browsers and have a good appetite for a variety of vegetation. In a ranch system, they help reduce the population of noxious weeds and will make good meat out of shrubs and bushes. When kept in confinement the feeders should be raised to mimic the browsing behaviour and this will also increase feed intake. Goats do not like feeding from the floor and most feed put on the floor will go to waste.  In addition, consider supplementation with mineral links.

Play, Dominance and Injuries

Within herds goats quickly establish a hierarchy and dominant goats can be bullies. This presents a problem when they are kept in confinement. To overcome this, provide several feeding points so that the goats of lower status within the herd get an opportunity to eat. Goats like to play, climb, or jump across structures and objects, which can be dangerous at times. Therefore, they should be protected from any potential injuries. Goats fight by head butting therefore consider dehorning as a way of reducing injuries from such fights. Note that fight injuries are common during breeding seasons. Therefore, do not introduce new bucks at such times to avoid such fights.

Signs of trouble

Common things to look out for are any wounds from injuries, limping and reduction in appetite. Any goat showing any clinical signs should be isolated from the herd and treated by a vet. Endeavour to prevent diseases through vaccination, internal and external parasite control, breeding selection, proper hoof care and good nutrition.

[The writer is a veterinary surgeon and the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO]