Johne’s Disease in Goats

Johnes Disease in goats

The possibility of bringing Johne’s onto your farm is one reason you should not buy goats from the sale barn. Although Johne’s is rare in goats, it also infects cattle and sheep, which means that a goat that was healthy when it arrived at the sale barn could pick up the disease while there. Although Johne’s is just one of many diseases that an animal could pick up at a sale barn, it can be one of the most devastating.

It is a disease that comes onto your property through the introduction of a new animal that appears to be perfectly healthy. An animal can be carrying Johne’s and shedding the bacteria in feces, contaminating the pasture, before they appear to be sick. Transmission is fecal-oral, meaning that your entire herd could be infected in short order. Johne’s can survive on the pasture for several years.

The only way to know if an animal has Johne’s before it shows symptoms is to test. There is no test for Johne’s that is extremely accurate in detecting infected animals, which means that it is not terribly informative to have a single negative test result on a single animal. It is more reassuring to have a whole herd test negative, and it is even more reassuring to have annual negative whole herd tests. After several years of negative results in a closed herd, the odds of Johne’s in that herd are as close to zero as one can get. Because Johne’s is so contagious, more than one animal in a herd will have it, so odds are much better that there will be some animals testing positive in the whole herd test if the disease exists in that herd.

The most common age for infection to occur is in the first month or two of a goat’s life, although they won’t develop symptoms for a couple of years. Older goats that are exposed to Johne’s may not contract it.

Weight loss is usually the only symptom of Johne’s in goats, but weight loss is also associated with parasites, dental issues, and other diseases and causes. Even social hierarchy within the herd can mean one goat isn’t getting its fair share of hay during winter when pastures are dead. Bucks also tend to lose a lot of weight during breeding season, sometimes as much as 20–30 percent of their normal body weight. Because copper-deficient goats tend to have poor parasite resistance, their body condition may be poor even when they have a small parasite load, which leads some owners to worry that their goat has Johne’s.

There is no vaccine and no cure for Johne’s, so if you have an animal with the disease, euthanasia may be the best solution.

Raising Goats Naturally

This is an excerpt from Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More, 2nd Revised Edition by Deborah Niemann.

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12 thoughts on “Johne’s Disease in Goats”

  1. Thank you for sharing this information. Currently our herd all tested negative for CAE/CL/Johnes. We will be testing yearly and careful to adding to our herd. On our site at this present were covering CAE because of a need to educate in our area. Have a blessed day.

  2. Johnes is an issue for all ruminants’ and like Menengeal worms, can be introduced through roaming deer. It does not affect horses as they are not ruminants.
    I found this out the hard way. While large pasture can be good from the parasite perspective, there is more likely to encourage deer.

  3. I thought Johnes disease, Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis is a bacterium. Your statement above, ” An animal can be carrying Johne’s and shedding the virus in feces…” is a little confusing. Can you clarify please? Also, thanks for the article and info.

  4. Could my goat have been infected with Menengeal worm from hay harvested on a field where deer and antelope are frequently found?

    • Antelope, no. And it is ONLY white-tail deer that carry meningeal worm. Other deer do not have it. Also, you have to have snails or slugs in the field because they are the intermediary host. Since snails and slugs are usually in wet areas, and that’s not compatible with a hay field, the odds of goats getting m-worm from hay is nearly impossible.

  5. If the only visible symptom of Johnes disease is weight loss, why is it so devastating? Not to belittle the informative article; maybe because it’s an excerpt I didn’t get the full impact.

    • My neighbor had a herd full of Johnes infected goats. The goats had good appetites, but the goats wasted away and died because the bacterium blocks the transfer of nutrients from the intestine to the body. I cleaned my boots every time I went over there to trim hooves, so as not to bring it back to my own goats! I’ve gotten negative tests on my herd every year. One doeling I sold got Johnes from the raw cow milk from a local dairy (as far as we can tell).

    • It is called “a wasting disease” because animals literally waste away to nothing. What happens when you just keep losing weight? You die. And transmission is fecal-oral meaning that wherever the animal has pooped, they have spread the disease, so all of your other ruminants (goats, sheep, and cows) will get it, and you will watch them all waste away and die.

  6. I have two new 2 and 3 month old goats that I bought from registered breeders. I am quarantining them and plan to add to our herd once cleared. I have been reading all about CAE, CL, and Johnes I’m just wondering at what point I should test them and if the tests aren’t always reliable when can I feel safe introducing them to our herd? Thank you for any direction! 🙂

    • Ideally, they came from a herd that has been testing for those diseases for years or is a closed herd (no showing or buying new does and only buys a buck every few years) that had a long history of negative tests after becoming a closed herd. For CAE, a pathologist at WADDL told me that you can’t get a reliable test on a goat until six months after it has been weaned (stopped receiving milk from its dam). Unfortunately the Johnes blood test has a pretty high rate of false negatives, which is why the history of whole herd negative tests is important. If the breeder has not done Johnes testing, then you might feel fairly safe if they have not brought in any new goats (other than a buck or two from a Johnes-free herd) in the last five years.


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