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Alabama Meat Goat Safety & Quality Assurance

Alabama Meat Goat Safety and Quality Assurance Dr. Diego M. Gimenez Jr., Extension Specialist, Associate Professor

Assuring the consumer that Alabama goat producers are providing goat products that meet or exceed expectations every time. That they are good to eat, that they are safe and healthy, they taste good and are tender.

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Good Production Practice # 6

Care, Management, and Other Considerations

It is important to remember that the goats being handled are a food source. Care must be taken to prevent bruising and injuries. Goats should not be poked and prodded as costly bruising can result. Electric prods should not be used. Bruised meat must be trimmed, resulting in economic loss. Similarly, damaged pelts have few uses and result in loss of profit. Working goats in muddy conditions also should be avoided. Practices that result in pain or injury to the animal should be avoided and are unnecessary if facilities are designed incorrectly.

Environmental conditions can also cause stress to goats, which can cause ruptured capillaries in fat and muscle—“fiery fat.”

  • Maintain the health of goats to assure satisfactory growth and performance and to decrease carcass condemnations.
  • Provide appropriate nutritional and feedstuff management. Keep feed, water, and handling equipment clean.
  • Prevent stress, bruising, and injury during animal handling.
  • Maintain pelt quality by controlling mud, manure, and parasites.
  • Maintain an environment appropriate to the production setting.
  • Facilities such as fences and chutes should be maintained in good working condition to allow for efficient movement and to reduce stress when working goats. Sharp objects and protrusions can result in bruising and should be avoided whenever possible. Equipment to restrain goats should allow for quick and secure restraint in order to minimize stress or injury to the goats or the operator. Experienced and trained personnel should operate restraining equipment.

Handling Key Points

The key to handling goats, or any livestock for that matter, is to work in harmony with their natural behavior and to practice "low-stress" handling. You should be calm and patient when working with animals. You should speak softly and in a low tone. You should move slowly and deliberately and not rush them, and you should move back and forth in a straight line and not haphazardly.

The flight zone is the animal's personal space. It is where the animal feels comfortable. The size of an animal's flight zone depends upon its degree of tameness or wildness and how calm it is. It may also vary according to the size of the enclosure. When a person enters an animal's flight zone, the animal will move. When the handler is on the outside of the animal's flight zone, the animal will turn and face the handler and maintain a safe distance. Approaching the animal's head will cause the flight zone to increase. Handlers should not penetrate too deeply into an animal's flight zone because the animal may bolt. It may become unpredictable, risking injury to itself and the handler. It is best for a handler to work on the outside of the flight zone. The flight zone will diminish with frequent, gentle handling.

Though livestock have excellent peripheral or wide-angle vision (up to 300 degrees), they have a blind zone behind their shoulders. Animals do not like for you stand in their blind zone. They like to know what or who is pressuring them. An animal will likely move forward when you stand in its blind zone.

The point of the shoulder is the animal's point of balance. All species of livestock will move forward if the handler stands behind the point of balance. They will back up if the handler stands in front of the point of balance. Walking quickly past the point of balance at the animal's shoulder, in the opposite direction as desired movement, is an easy way to induce an animal to move forward.

Tame animals, in addition to having a smaller flight zone, experience less stress when being handled; however, they can be difficult to drive. Tame animals can be led with a halter or bucket. Animals can be trained to accept restraint voluntarily. Small producers can usually handle their goats by crowding them into a small pen. If you feed them in the crowding pen, they will get used to going in. When handling goats at close distances, care must be taken to avoid injury from sudden movements, especially from the horns. Several pieces of handling equipment can be used to restrain a goat for hoof trimming. These include a turntable, or crush, which holds the goat firmly and turns it on its side or upside down for easy access to the hooves. In a handling system, a chute leading to a raised platform with a head gate and side gates that open works well for hoof trimming and other tasks. To move goats forward, move toward their rear past their point of balance (shoulder). To stop or back up goats in a chute, move forward past their point of balance.

  • Be aware of the flight zone, blind zone, and point of balance for goats.
  • Never fill a crowding pen more than three-quarters full; goats need room to turn around.
  • Goats should move easily up the chute. Avoid hanging chains, shadows, backstops, noises, dogs or people that might prevent movement.
  • Loading ramps and handling chutes should have solid walls to prevent animals from seeing distractions outside the working area.
  • Minimize the use of electrical prods.
  • Reduce stress on goats to prevent animal and employee injuries and sickness, and to increase overall efficiency.

Goat Handling Systems

The basic components of a handling system for goats are a crowding (or gathering pen), a chute (or raceway), and sorting/cutting gates. A crowding pen is used to direct the animals into a single- or double-file chute. The radius of the crowding pen should be approximately 8 feet. It should be half as long as the chute. Round (curved) or straight panels may be used. The panels should be solid. The handling system should be set up on level ground, and all the components of the handling system should be the same color.

The chute is where the animals will move in a single- or double-file line. While in the chute, the animals can be vaccinated or dewormed. A foot trough can be set in the chute for foot bathing. A heat gate at the end of the chute will enable the goat to be restrained for better access to its head. For goats, the chute should be approximately 10 feet long, 4 feet high, and 12 inches wide. A chute that is too long may cause crowding and trampling at the forward end of the chute. Longer chutes should be divided with sliding gates. The entrance to the chute often has a sliding or drop-down gate to prevent entry of more goats. For horned goats, the sides of the chute should be tapered, with the top twice as wide as the bottom. Some sort of antiback-up device will keep goats from changing directions in the chute.

Handling systems may also include other components, such as a turntable (or cradle or crush), head gate, elevated platform, scales, and foot baths. Two- or three-way sorting and cutting gates are used at the end of the chute to direct animals into different pens or pastures or up a loading ramp. The exit of the handling system should be oriented toward a "home" pasture or pen.

Horns can be both an asset and a liability in goat handling. Goats can be restrained using horns. You should restrain the goat by holding the base of the horn not the tips. Goats should never be caught or dragged by the horns or hair. Keeping the horns tipped or blunt may help to prevent injury to the handler, as well as other goats.


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