How to examine a dairy goat before you buy

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The health of your herd depends upon buying sound dairy goats. Prior to buying a dairy goat it is important to examine them to eliminate doubts about their health, breed and performance.  Get in the goat pen and ask the seller to help hold the goats while you examine them.  It is cost effective to go slowly and being careful.

1. The goat from the top.

Body shape

A dairy goat should have a triangular shape. This ensures that there is enough room for feed in the rumen, even when the doe is pregnant with multiple kids.

Body condition

Feel along her spine and then let your hand slide down the side until you hit the big groove in her side. Feel along the rib bones at the top of the groove. There should be some meat there but it should not be too fatty. If you can't see the groove in her side at all, she is very obese. Don't buy a goat that is way too thin or way too fat.


The hair should be free of lice and mites.  Little white or brown spots that move indicate infestation. The hair should be shiny and not dull and dry.


The skin should be free of scales, sores, lumps, and bald patches.

2.  The goat from the front

General attitude

A healthy goat is alert and energetic.

The Legs

The legs should be straight.  They should not bow in or bow out. Reject those with enlarged knee joints, with the skin worn off from walking on the knees.

The Eyes

The goat's eyes should be shiny and clear.  Redness or drainage indicates pinkeye or other eye irritations.

The Mouth

The jaws should match in size and shape so that the goat can chew well.  Reject the "parrot mouth" where the bottom jaw is shorter than the top jaw, "monkey mouth" where the bottom teeth extend out beyond the top front teeth and "bottle jaw" which is a sack-like enlargement below the jaw due to worms or liver flukes.  The lips should be free of sores.

The teeth

The teeth should be whole, spaced so the jaw can shut properly, and appropriate for age. "Broken mouth" indicates the goat is old and cannot chew well.

Teeth that are worn down on a younger goat indicates that they are eating so close to the ground wearing their teeth away, and that they are probably malnourished and full of parasites..  This is very common where grazing is not controlled and there is not enough grass to support the number of goats grazing.

The Nose

The nose should be dry and should not be draining. The goat should breathe quietly and easily.  Noisy breathing and runny nose can mean pneumonia, which is highly contagious.

The Skin

Check for any abscesses on her face, neck or body.

Body condition of the chest area

Reach under the goat's front chest area and feel the breast bone for fat and meat.  There should be meat there, but not a lot of fat.

3.  The goat from the back

The udder

The udder should be full, well attached at the top, with two distinct halves.

Teats should be of the same size and hang straight down or slightly out to the side. Confirm that there are no sores, lumps or deformities in the udder or teats.

Udder size

The size of the udder depends on the age of the goat and milking time. If the goat is a first milker her udder will not be as large as an older goat udder and that is perfectly normal. Udder size reduces on a goat that has recently been milked, and increase greatly as you approach the next milking time.

Rectal area

The back end of the goat should be clean.  If there are liquid feces in the hair, the goat has diarrhea and is sick.


The vagina should not discharge except when the goat has recently given birth which might continue for up to three weeks. However the discharge should not smell bad. The goat may also have a clear discharge if it is on heat.

Back Legs

The back legs should be wide apart and straight up and down, not bowed in or out.

4.  The goat from the sides

Check both sides of the goat. She should stand square on all four legs and walk freely, without pain or limping.


Pick up her hooves and check for foot rot or scald. Does the hoof smell bad?  Is there a white patch, or sores between the hooves?   Reject goats from a herd that has even one case of foot rot or foot scald because once you get it in your farm, you can't get it out.  Even a goat without symptoms now, carries the disease, if other goats in the herd have had it.

The last thing to do is to feel the lymph nodes and make sure there is no swelling in any of them.  If there is swelling, do not buy the goat, as swelling indicates illness.

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