All of my many goat books have a chapter or section with a title like this – How to Buy a Goat. There are some variations but on the whole most of them would agree with this information presented in How to Buy a Healthy Goat for Dummies:
“Ask the following questions to help determine whether a goat is healthy:
- What diseases do you test for? What kind of results have you had with testing?
- Do any of your goats have a transmissible disease? How do you handle that?
- What is your feeding program for newborns?
- What vaccinations do you do?
- Have you had any goats die from an undiagnosed illness in the past few years? What happened?
- Have you had a history of abortion in your herd? Explain.
- For meat goats: What kinds of market weights do you get for your goats?
- For fiber goats: How much fiber do you get on average from your goats and what type and quality is it?
- For dairy goats: Are you on milk test? How much milk do you get from the goats or their dam or buck’s dam?
- What do you feed your goats, including minerals?
- Will you give me the names of three people you have previously sold goats to?
If the goats you plan to purchase are located too far away to visit, you won’t be able to examine them or the herd they’re coming from. Besides getting answers to the previous questions, you can take a couple more steps before agreeing to purchase them:
- Ask specific questions about characteristics that you might find on examination. For example, “Does this goat have any defects or has it had any illnesses?”
- Ask for pictures of the goat from different angles.
- Ask for copies of any health records on the goat.
If you live close enough or can afford to travel, go to the seller’s farm to see the goats. Ask to see the goats that you’re interested in purchasing (or if they aren’t born yet, to see their dams) and any health records the seller has. You can use this opportunity to check not only for sickness but for quality.
Look at the goat from a distance, observing how it moves and whether it limps or favors any leg. When you get to the goat, check its body:
- Evaluate its weight. You need to put your hands on the goat to determine whether it’s bony, fat, or average weight.
- Check the body for any lumps, swellings, or other abnormalities.
- Look for extra, split, or micro-teats.
- Notice whether the coat is dull, dandruffy, or missing patches.
- Check the eyes and nose for crustiness or mucus.
- Look for signs of diarrhea.
- Pull down the lip and check the gums for anemia. (The gums should be pink.)
- If the goat is lactating, inspect her udder for lumps, disproportion, or pendulousness. Ask to milk her if you’re purchasing her for milking.”
This sort of 20 questions might go down well enough if you are purchasing from a large goat producer who maintains detailed records but if you are buying a goat offered up on Craigslist by a small rural mom and pop operation you’ll do well to pare the list down to a few basics. I’ve found some of these folks take offense at being questioned and won’t respond to the 3rd degree! Oh, they’ll share a little - especially any good news – but they don’t want to discuss defects, illnesses or death! Maybe it’s the midwesterner’s dislike of complaining about ailments – they don’t mention their bad backs and they won’t be telling you about their goat’s lameness either!
Don’t expect to be given a tour of the farm and the opportunity to inspect the premises – the owner may very well just meet you at the gate with the goat on a lead. You are unlikely to get a print out of all the pedigree and health records either so take a good look at the goat and the owner and ask “Why are you selling this goat?” If it’s a milk goat inquire about the amount of milk she gives (or the amount her dam gave if she isn’t milking yet). The owner will know this and be happy to brag about it – the same goes for the market weight of meat goats. Ask about health but don’t expect to hear any bad news. Take everything you are told with a grain of salt and rely on what your eyes tell you. And expect, as a newby, to sometimes make mistakes!