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Running the country’s sole goat-only practice, Dr Sandra Baxendell is focused on eradicating caprine arthritis encephalitis in Australia. By Kerryn Ramsey
Not only does Dr Sandra Baxendell run a goat-only practice, Goat Veterinary Consultancies (goatvetoz), she’s also Australia’s eminent authority on goat health. Based in Keperra, a north-western suburb of Brisbane, she freely shares her expertise and knowledge nationally and across the world. From those who keep a goat as a pet to the big producers running thousands of goats, Dr Baxendell is who they turn to, to find expert advice and the most up-to-date information.
One of Dr Baxendell’s passions is the eradication of caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) right across Australia.
“CAE is a retrovirus with no vaccine and no cure,” she says. “All you can do is put goats on pain relief for the arthritis it causes in multiple joints. There’s also a form of the disease that affects the lungs and leads to severe pneumonia. The disease is spread through milk and direct contact. Some large commercial dairies feed their animals pooled milk and this spreads the disease.”
Eradicating CAE in Australia will take widespread cooperation between goat owners, breeders, farmers and the government. At present, Victoria is the only state that has CAE as a notifiable disease. Despite this, owners are not required to quarantine their animals.
“Goats should never be fed from pooled milk unless pasteurised,” says Dr Baxendell. “Goats should only be purchased from tested herds. If a goat is infected, it needs to be isolated behind a double fence or solid wall. A big step towards eradication would be all states making the disease reportable.”
Dr Baxendell has set up a Facebook group, Let’s Eradicate CAE from Australian Goats. It has over 1300 followers and is a wealth of information and action plans.
A lifelong interest
Dr Baxendell’s interest in goats stretches back to her time as a first-year student at the University of Queensland in 1971. Her parents owned a farm and she ran a commercial goat dairy with 120 goats. The dairy occupied her spare time through her undergraduate years, and she used goats as an experimental animal as part of her PhD.
When she was presented with an opportunity to move to Western Australia and live on a 3000-head cashmere and angora farm, Dr Baxendell jumped at the chance. While in WA, she also became Head of School at Curtin University. After a move back to Brisbane, she was awarded the public service medal for work she undertook as regional director for Queensland’s Department of Primary Industries. This was followed by a stint at Biosecurity Queensland where Dr Baxendell decided it was time to fulfil a long-time dream. She would transform her career and focus on what she loved—working with dairy goats.
After setting up goatvetoz in Keperra in 2012, the practice slowly started building a client base. Things were moving along nicely until Dr Baxendell developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“That knocked me around for six months followed by 18 months of immunotherapy,” she says. “During that time, I did some training in small business and social media. The social media took off and now I’ve probably got slightly more clients than I want.”
The goatvetoz Facebook page has nearly 6900 followers, many more than the International Goat Association Facebook page. goatvetoz is a one-woman practice but Dr Baxendell is ably assisted by her husband, Ron. He has no veterinary qualifications but is an integral part of the business.
“He’s my animal handler and a huge help,” she says. “He’s always inventing something or modifying something to make life a bit easier. I don’t know how he does it.”
The goat expert
Down in Tasmania, Dr Eileen Wronski runs a mixed veterinary practice in Huonville. Goat ownership has exploded in her area and she’s in frequent contact with Dr Baxendell. She knows just how important Dr Baxendell is to goat owners.
“Sandra is the expert on goats in Australia,” she says. “She’s an amazing contributor on both the national and international scene, giving freely of her wealth of experience. Her down-to-earth, practical, sensible advice and information is informed by her incredible breadth of technical, academic and research knowledge.”
Drench resistant worms
As well as eradicating CAE, Dr Baxendell wants to solve the problem of drench resistant worms.
“There are many goat owners who are at the end of their tether because of drench-resistant worms,” she says. “There are only two drenches that can be legally used with dairy goats. These drenches can be difficult to find commercially.”
Many goat owners resort to using widely available sheep drench which is, of course, completely unacceptable. It’s a huge problem. Dr Baxendell runs Zoom courses on worm control and they get booked out quickly—even when she runs five courses in a month.
So what does the future hold for Dr Baxendell, author of The diagnosis of the diseases of goats, life member of the Dairy Goat Society of Australia and owner of the sole goat-only veterinary practice in Australia?
“I hope to do more online courses,” she says. “I’m trying to increase the training aspects of what I do and create hands-on worm and biosecurity plans. I’m currently running a course for veterinarians through the Centre for Veterinary Education at the University of Sydney. I want to reach more people because the demand is definitely there.”
Dr Eileen Wronski knows just how popular goats are becoming. “We are dealing with lots of pet goats, a growing number of meat and dairy production herds, people breeding and showing goats, and many self-sufficiency and hobby farmer owners. I often write to Sandra with unusual findings and questions. She always responds freely and willingly with practical information based on her experience and with academic references.”
With the growth in popularity of goats in Australia, vets should expect more clients to start bringing them into their practices. After all, they make good pets, have individual personalities and are trainable.
“They’re just the same as dogs, except you don’t keep them inside,” says Dr Baxendell.