In Uganda, goats are probably the most valued animals to small-holder farmers on account of their unique ability to adapt and survive in harsh environments. Goat rearing is being practiced by majority of households irrespective of social status. Goats supply different products like meat, milk and skin, whose importance depend on the breed of goats kept and on the management system employed to rear them.
GOAT REARING AS A BUSINESS
Most Ugandan farmers have discovered that goats offer quick return on investment as compared to other livestock species, hence the increased urge of most elites to engage in goat rearing for commercial purposes. This has led to a shift from subsistence goat rearing to commercial production, resulting in the need for a high level of precision in terms of operations as would be the case for any other business enterprise. In order to thrive and benefit out of a goat business, the flock size has to grow numerically. Therefore, anything that stands in the way of numerical growth of the goat flock is considered a bottleneck to production. One such bottleneck is goat mortality. Goat mortality is simply the number of deaths of goats on a given farm in a given period due to known or unknown causes. Some of the known causes include infectious diseases, nutritional deficiencies, suffocation due to overcrowding, starvation especially among kids, unhygienic conditions, poor ventilation, predators, accidents etc. Mortalities can be categorized by age, depending on the age group that is predominantly dying in a particular flock/herd for example, kid mortality.
Goat rearing is practiced by majority of Ugandans in all regions of Uganda
DO FARMERS HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY?
Oftentimes veterinarians are approached with questions relating to goat mortality, especially among kids, and it is usually at a time when the loss has reached staggering levels. Much as the veterinarians may try everything in their power to salvage the situation, it might be impossible sometimes to reverse the trend. Therefore, one wonders whether there is anything the farmer can do to avoid the unfortunate from happening. Indeed, the farmer has a very big role to play in mitigating mortality trends.
The farmers must ensure proper housing for the goats. A good goat house should be easy to clean, well ventilated, predator proof, leak proof, draught proof and provide enough floor space for the goats to avoid overcrowding and suffocation among other attributes. The goat house needs to have an exercise yard that must be kept clean and devoid of grass. A clear routine for daily goat house cleaning should be in place to avert mortalities related to hygiene. These activities have to be part of the routine operations for the flock men/women and the farmer needs to ensure that they are strictly adhered to right from the time of hire.
An ideal goat house should be well ventilated, easy to clean and draught proof
Proper goat nutrition
Goats need to be fed on a balanced diet capable of supplying all the essential nutrients required for survival and production. Unlike cattle and sheep that prefer eating shorter grass (grazing), goats are predominantly browsers (they eat tall grass and tree leaves). Therefore, farmers feeding goats in confinement should make feeder designs that support the goat in imitating the browsing behavior as much as possible. Goats are also very sensitive to contaminated feed and water supplies and may refuse water containing fecal pellets or feed in wet troughs that smell badly. Goats must be provided with enough feed. For instance, an adult goat is supposed to consume 3% of its live body weight in dry matter. Water and mineral licks must always be provided at all times (adlibitum). Goats under range conditions must spend at least 30% of the day feeding. The rest of the time is spent on other processes such as chewing cud, resting, nursing the kids and traveling.
Goats prefer browsing to grazing
Goat farmers need to follow a robust vaccination schedule. This should be implemented in consultation with the area veterinarian aimed at preventing the goats from acquiring infectious diseases such as Enterotoxaemia also known as Clostridial infections, PPR, CCPP, FMD etc. The timing of the vaccination activities should strictly be discussed with the veterinarians. The National Animal Genetics Resources Centre and Data Bank (NAGRC&DB) scientists can offer guidance for farmers that may find it difficult to access veterinarians in their local areas. Other diseases may not necessarily cause mortalities directly but are contributors to economic loss due to the treatment costs involved, abortions, retarded growth and reduced milk production. These include worm infestation that leads to anaemia and loss of body condition, coccidiosis that mainly causes diarrhea in kids which leads to dehydration and death and brucellosis that causes contagious widespread abortions within the flock/herd. Goats can be vaccinated for brucellosis, care being taken not to vaccinate older goats as well as the pregnant ones. In order to control worms, farmers are advised to deworm their goats at least once every three months. Other diseases that are transmitted by vectors such as ticks can be prevented by routinely spraying/dipping the goats with effective acaricides.
ROLE OF A VETERINARIAN
In all the operations pertaining to goat health and general husbandry, farmers need to be in touch with a registered veterinarian. A list of veterinary surgeons and all their contacts in a given district can be obtained from the office of the district veterinary officer, to avoid exploitation by quacks.
Veterinarians will assist in the proper diagnosis of goat diseases before administering the correct treatment