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    Conducting Goat Introductions At Your Animal Sanctuary

    A goat stands looking at the camera as other goats gather behind them.
    Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media

    This Resource Is Meant to Be Read In Conjunction With Another Resource
    Before reading our goat-specific guidance, please read our detailed resource about preparing for resident introductions here. The following information is meant to supplement and build upon the important points covered within that resource.

    While every situation will be different and will be impacted by the individuals involved, generally speaking, goat introductions have the potential to be a bit more complicated than some other farmed animal sanctuary resident introductions. This isn’t to say that every goat introduction will be challenging, but it’s important to recognize some of the complications that may arise so that you can either avoid them or at least be prepared to handle them. Below, we’ll talk about important things to remember when preparing for and conducting goat introductions.

    Planning For Goat Introductions

    When conducting resident introductions, planning and thoughtful consideration is key! In addition to the considerations outlined in Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions, there are a few additional things to keep in mind when planning for goat introductions.

    Keep Disease Transmission In Mind
    In Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions, we mention the importance of considering the risk of infectious disease spread when planning resident introductions, but given the prevalence of contagious diseases such as caseous lymphadenitis (CL) and caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) in goats, it bears repeating here. When preparing for goat resident introductions, be sure to consider the health status of your residents and work with your veterinarian to ensure all appropriate testing has been conducted. To learn more about preventing the spread of these common diseases, please refer to the links above.

    You Might Want To Let Young Goat Kids Mature A Bit

    If considering introducing a goat kid to a herd of mature goats, it’s typically best to wait until the kid has matured enough to be weaned and is doing well on a forage-based diet. This can help ensure everyone continues to have their specific needs met regarding diet, warmth, etc. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and there may be times when you feel it is in the kid’s best interest to be introduced to a more mature goat before they have been weaned (for example, if there is a female who you think may “adopt” them or an older goat kid you think they’d get along with). However, housing individuals together who have significant differences in their dietary or housing needs will be more challenging, so be sure to consider how you will meet these needs. 

    It’s also important to remember that goat kids are very vulnerable to parasitism because they have not yet developed any immunity to parasites. If parasites such as barber pole worm are an issue in your area, it may be wise to avoid moving goat kids into a herd or onto a pasture where they are likely to be exposed to a large number of parasites before having time to build up their immunity. 

    Kids are also more vulnerable to predation, so you’ll want to consider whether moving them in with your resident goat herd is safe. In some cases, allowing young goat kids to roam out in large spaces or to have outdoor access overnight may be too risky. Depending on your setup, you may be able to make modifications that allow you to introduce the kid while still keeping them safe, for example, moving the herd to a smaller pasture that is not close to wild spaces, providing human supervision while outdoors, and/or closing them into a safe space overnight. 

    Make Sure Breeding Is Not Possible

    Remember that a male goat can remain fertile for up to 6 weeks after being neutered. Do not conduct introductions until you are confident that breeding is not possible. If you’re not sure, check in with your veterinarian for guidance. Scheduling a new male resident’s neuter as soon after their intake as possible (following your veterinarian’s recommendations) can help avoid a long delay between discontinuing quarantine and being able to conduct introductions.

    Also, remember that a recently neutered male may continue to exhibit buck-like behaviors after being neutered, particularly if they were neutered later in life. Older bucks who were recently neutered may be more difficult to introduce to other males than someone who was neutered at a younger age. This doesn’t mean a male who is neutered later in life cannot be introduced to other males, but it may prove more difficult.

    Evaluate Your Layout And Physical Infrastructure

    In Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions, we discussed the importance of avoiding areas that create “dead ends” where an individual could be cornered by others. While this is true for all species, it is particularly important when conducting goat introductions. Because introductions can result in confrontations between individuals, in addition to closely supervising introductions, it’s crucial that you ensure individuals can easily move away from each other. If a goat resident is cornered by one or more goat residents, they are at an increased risk of being injured, and it may be more difficult for caregivers to intervene quickly. In addition to the risk of physical injury, a resident who feels trapped is likely to feel stressed, making it difficult for them to settle into the group.

    In addition to avoiding dead ends, it’s also very helpful to have at least two entrances in and out of the indoor space. This can help avoid a situation where one or more residents are unable to move freely between the indoor and outdoor space due to another resident(s) blocking the only entrance. 

    If you plan to start out with the separate but adjacent method, as described in Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions, be sure to carefully consider the barriers that will keep individuals separated. Goats can be particularly rough on fencing and other physical infrastructure, so if the two groups are going to share a barrier, be sure to consider if it is strong enough to withstand headbutting from both sides. Also, consider any gaps in the barrier (such as gaps between wood boards, gate bars, or in mesh fencing, as well as gaps under barriers). You want to avoid any gaps a resident could fit their head or leg through, as getting slammed with part of their body through a barrier could result in serious injury. In some cases, temporarily covering gaps with plywood or another solid and sturdy material may be necessary.

    Also, consider barrier height. Some goats can jump surprisingly high when motivated to do so, and a fearful individual or someone who is eager to join other goats may decide to make a break for it. In addition to the risk of an introduction occurring without supervision, jumping (or attempting to jump) over a barrier could result in injury.

    Think Carefully About Personalities And Physical Abilities

    As compared to species such as sheep, goat social dynamics can be a bit more complicated. That’s not to say that goats don’t get along well with one another, but it’s important to really think about personalities and physical abilities when determining which individuals may be a good match (and alternatively, which introductions might carry too much risk). Sometimes, it’s necessary for a sanctuary to create multiple smaller goat herds (versus one large group that includes all goat residents) to keep everyone happy and safe. Every individual is unique, and each introduction will alter group dynamics, so keep in mind that even if, thus far, you have successfully cared for all your goat residents in one herd, there may come a time when this no longer works. This may be due to changes within an established group or due to the intake of a new resident. Some goats simply can’t live together safely, perhaps due to differences in size, health, and/or personality, and even absent these differences, some individuals simply do not get along. 

    Some sources recommend never housing horned goats with those who do not have horns out of the concern that a horned goat may injure someone without horns. While horns are definitely something to think about when considering resident introductions, and you may decide you want to follow this recommendation, we have seen many cases of horned goats living peacefully with those who do not have horns. However, if a particular goat is overly rough or confrontational and also has horns, this definitely increases the potential damage they can cause, which includes gore wounds and injuries to legs by hooking and lifting legs in an unnatural position. It’s important to note that these injuries can also be inflicted on other goats with horns, so be sure to consider personalities and physical abilities as well (and, of course, to closely supervise all introductions so you can intervene if needed!). While the presence of horns can be a complicating factor in goat introductions, we want to stress that it is unacceptable to disbud or dehorn a goat unless there is a medical reason to do so.

    At The Open Sanctuary Project, unacceptable means that we cannot condone (or condone through omission) a certain practice, standard, or policy. See a more detailed explanation here.

    In some cases, it may not be safe to introduce certain individuals to one another due to significant differences in size and strength, particularly if one or more individuals tend to be more confrontational or overly playful. Some individuals may also be more vulnerable to injury due to age or disease, in which case you may want to avoid introducing them to more rambunctious or assertive individuals. Whether you care for multiple goat herds or just one, if the current options do not seem like a safe fit, you may need to get creative to find a setup that can work for everyone. This may entail thoughtfully dividing your goat resident herd without breaking up bonded companions or considering an alternative living arrangement for one or more residents. 

    Conducting Goat Introductions

    Once you’ve done all your prep work and are ready to conduct the introduction, you might opt to start by housing goats who are going to be introduced to each other in separate but adjacent spaces before fully integrating them (as described in Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions and taking the above considerations regarding physical barriers in mind). In some situations, this arrangement may give individuals time to get acquainted with one another, making the eventual physical introduction go more smoothly. However, in other cases, you may find that residents are consumed with headbutting through their shared barrier and may feel the arrangement is not necessarily helpful. While it’s important to pay attention to how individuals interact through a physical barrier, it’s also important to recognize that these interactions may not be reflective of how they will interact without the barrier. Prolonged or intense headbutting through the barrier may simply mean that the separate but adjacent method isn’t beneficial in this particular instance. It does not automatically mean that the introduction is doomed. As opposed to a physical introduction, meeting and interacting through a barrier can prevent resolution when trying to figure out where they stand in the social hierarchy. Because of this, you may see different behaviors and/or a different intensity of behaviors when individuals are separated by a physical barrier. Each situation is different, so you’ll want to think carefully about what will be most appropriate for the individuals in your care, and then closely observe their reactions so you can make adjustments as needed.

    Similarly, once you are ready to allow the goats to be in a shared space with each other, it’s very important to closely monitor everyone’s reaction in case you need to intervene! There may be some headbutting at first, as everyone figures out their place in the social hierarchy, but as long as no one is getting injured or overdoing it, it’s generally best to let them sort things out for themselves (so long as you have ensured they have enough space to move away from others if they choose and are not at risk of being cornered). However, if things get out of hand, you’ll need to break up conflicts quickly. While some headbutting, chasing, and mounting is not unusual, prolonged and/or excessive headbutting, chasing, or mounting may require intervention. Additionally, slamming other individuals in the side or rear or using horns to hook another individual can cause significant injury – if you see these behaviors, be sure to intervene. Horned goats can cause gore wounds that may not be apparent from afar (especially if they are on an individual’s underside or in their groin), so if you see someone hooked by a horned goat, be sure to check them for any wounds. 

    In addition to watching for physical contact that could result in injury, be sure also to watch closely that residents are not exhausting themselves or showing signs of overheating. In some cases, you may need to separate individuals and try again later (or consider a different option entirely). Also, be sure to observe your residents’ body language and general interactions. Even if there is no physical altercation, if one or more individuals appear to be very intimidated by someone else in the group, this may not be a healthy living arrangement for them. While individuals may settle in over time, if residents are constantly stressed and/or unable to engage freely in normal activities (for example, if they are being bullied away from hay racks), they should be provided a different living arrangement.

    The New Gang In Town
    While every situation is different, if you are introducing multiple new goats, this can sometimes make things a bit easier.

    Things To Keep In Mind After Conducting Goat Introductions

    Once you’re confident that everyone is settled in and is safe to stay together without supervision, there are still important things to keep in mind as everyone adjusts to their new living arrangements. This includes the following: 

    Make Sure Everyone Has Easy Access To Resources

    It’s important to watch closely to ensure that everyone in the group continues to have easy access to resources such as hay and water and that they can easily seek shelter if they so choose. A quick peek in on the group may reveal no obvious tension within the group, but upon further observation, you may notice that a certain individual(s) is too nervous to approach the hay feeder when someone else is nearby or that they are reluctant to move through a doorway when another goat is waiting on the other side. As mentioned above, the absence of a physical confrontation is not necessarily indicative of healthy group dynamics, so be sure to watch closely for signs of tension or distress. In some cases, offering additional resources and making sure those are spread out may alleviate tensions. For example, even if technically all the residents should be able to physically access hay at the same time, if you find that certain individuals are nervous or certain individuals are actively keeping others away, offering additional hay feeders spread out within the indoor space, and possibly even in the outdoor space, may allow everyone to eat comfortably. 

    Overnight Accommodations

    Also be sure to consider overnight accommodations. If residents are closed inside overnight for their safety, consider if separations are necessary during times when the group is locked inside. Some goats may do okay with each other while in a larger space where they can steer clear of one another, but when closed into a smaller space with no place to escape, the situation may be quite different and could turn dangerous. Similarly, if your goat residents are allowed to have access to the outdoors overnight, you may still opt to give the new individual(s) their own space to avoid them getting kicked out or choosing to stay outside so they can keep their distance from certain individuals.

    It’s Not Just Overnight
    If there are other times when residents must be closed inside, for example, during dangerously cold or icy weather or in preparation for health checks, be sure to consider if any separations are needed to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being.

    While following the guidance above (and the guidance contained in Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions) can help set you up for success, it’s important to remember that every individual and situation is unique. Some introductions may take more time than others, and some residents may simply never get along, so it’s always a good idea to have a plan B in mind!

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