She’s Got That Shine! Maintaining Healthy Goat Coats
Determining the cause of rough coats and skin issues.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
One of the commonly asked questions I hear from non-goat owners is “What do goats feel like?” A better question would be, “What are they supposed to feel like?” My very first goat, back when I knew absolutely nothing about the animal, was a raggedy old doe I got from someone who really didn’t want her anymore.
Even to my inexperienced eyes, she was thin, but at the time I assumed that her rough hair was simply what goats felt like. We fattened her up and read some livestock books on goats and gave her some minerals and supplements that goats are supposed to need. About a year later, she was a completely different animal. Goats are supposed to have soft, clean, shiny coats. In winter they are thick and luxurious, and in summer they shed to a thinner, but still soft coat.
Different goats have different kinds of coats. Some breeds, like Saanens and Toggenburgs, have longer hair. Their coats need to be brushed out often. Owners in warmer regions will also shave their goats over the warmer season for ease of keeping, milking, or showing. There are also fiber goats, such as Angora or Cashmere goats, whose hair we use for clothing and fabrics. All of these breeds will feel and look a little different than the average short- or medium-length coat varieties.
A goat’s coat is a great overall health indicator. If an animal has a dull, thin coat, there is a good chance it’s not getting enough of something it needs. Visually check your goat’s coat condition whenever you’re around them so you notice any changes. In addition to that, about once a month, owners should complete a comprehensive health exam.
The health exam should coincide with other necessary interventions, so you can provide hoof trimming, any medications that need to be given, and samples that may need to be collected at one time. For the coat part, examine your goat’s hair closely. Pull it back in the opposite direction of growth and look for bugs. Take note of any hair loss, bald patches, skin flakes, or any signs of skin infection such as redness, boils, sores, or white patches. If you shave or brush your goats, now is a great time to do so. Make sure to give them treats for their trouble.
Many common skin and coat conditions plague goats, but I’ve grouped them loosely into three categories: parasites, deficiencies, and skin infections.
If you come across a small, tan bug while examining your goat, it may be goat lice. Goats with lice will have a dull, scruffy coat and will scratch on things more often than normal. You may be able to find grey eggs on your goat’s back, but you’ll need a magnifying glass to see them well. You may want to speak with your vet if you have dairy animals, but lice can be treated with louse powder. Treat all your animals at once to kill all the lice.
Mange is another parasitic disease caused by microscopic mites. Signs include dandruff, hairless patches, sores, and thickened white patches of skin. Animals need to be quarantined, but the entire herd should be treated, including any guard animals. Your vet can help recommend the best treatment options for your herd.
Mineral Deficiencies in Goats
Copper is the main mineral deficiency noticeable from the coat alone. Goats need this key mineral to survive, so if they become deficient, owners need to intervene. The signs of a copper deficiency are bleached coat color, fishtail, and even balding around the eyes and nose. The goat’s hair turns a shade (or several) lighter than what it should be. Black goats begin to look rusty red, red goats start to look cream-colored, and so on.
Copper deficiency can lead to multiple problems, including premature kidding, miscarriages, or even death of the goat. It affects their overall health and makes it harder for them to fight off any diseases they may contract. Luckily, the deficiency is easy to treat with copper boluses, which are given to each goat and calculated by body weight.
It is important to note that owners may have to bolus their goats more often than the package states. My brand recommends bolusing every eight to 12 months, but I have to do it more often. My water is supplied by a well, and we have hard water. Commonly, well water is high in calcium, which acts as an antagonist to the copper the goats could be getting from their feed or minerals. This means the calcium binds to the copper and makes it so the goat’s body can no longer use it. In situations like this, it is key to spend time with your herd and bolus them at the sign of a deficiency instead of doing it on a schedule.
Skin infections should become apparent during coat inspections. With most skin infections, a veterinarian has to examine and diagnose your goat. Look for any ringworm scabs, boils, pus, or excessive itching.
Ringworm is a well known fungal skin infection. Goats present a ring of hair loss, with flaky and irritated skin. A zoonotic disease, ringworm can spread from goats to other animals and humans. Preventing ringworm in goats is the best bet, and this can be done by keeping the housing and living space dry and clean. Goat ringworm can be treated with topical cream or spray, but can also be left to run its course. It clears up in about eight weeks, but animals can become reinfected by others.
If your goat appears healthy overall and is not deficient in anything, but they still have a dull coat despite brushing and maintenance, don’t feel bad. Some animals are naturally a little more scruffy despite our best efforts. I have one little brown doe who consistently looks like a raggamuffin, regardless of getting brushed out and extra feed and minerals. Fortunately for my goat and my sanity, Goat Journal editor Marissa Ames suggested Healthy Coat to me.
Healthy Coat is essentially an oil supplement to help animals with dry skin. It has easily digestible fatty acids and vitamin E, and I give a little bit to my girl each day. She has completely turned around and grown in a shiny, thicker coat in the last few weeks. I have read of other goat keepers recommending pouring a small amount of vitamin E over their goat’s feed as well to achieve the same effect.
Coats can tell you a lot about your goat’s overall health and maintenance level. If you notice any signs of sickness or disease, consult with your local veterinarian or animal husbandry expert. Keeping your goats properly fed, bolused, brushed, and trimmed will allow you to not only tell your friends what goat’s hair feels like, but what it’s supposed to feel like as well.
*Photos of French Alpine goat provided by Tamsin Cooper.
Originally published in the Goat Journal 2020 special subscriber issue — Goat Health, From Head to Hoof — and regularly vetted for accuracy.