Guide to Keeping Goats Naturally Healthy
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Katherine Drovdahl MH CR CA CEIT DipHIr QTP answers reader questions about goat health in Kat’s Caprine Corner, in each issue of Goat Journal.
A HEALTHY GOAT
I love using echinacea with my goats. What are your thoughts on that?
Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea are beautiful gifts from our Creator. Just as with nearly every herb, there are right ways and wrong ways to use it. Most creatures do well with echinacea. I like to use it as part of a blend to cover more bacterial and viral bases rather than by itself because echinacea works essentially three ways: First, it helps protect cellular integrity from some bacterial, viral, and venomous threats. It also can encourage the body to stimulate healing within joints and it encourages the immune system to go into a turbo mode. After approximately 10 days in a row of use, the body will catch on and echinacea will fail to work on immune system enhancement; so I don’t suggest its use for long-term immunity needs or for support of organs damaged by bacterial, viral, or venom challenges.
I don’t have a bolus gun. How can I give copper boluses?
I don’t give copper bolus; I happen to use herbs instead. But, when I used to bolus, I would dump out the contents of a copper bolus and then re-capsule them into double-ought “00” sized vegan capsules. I would select the number of mini boluses according to the animal’s need and size. They really should be given with a bolus gun so that they can bypass the teeth and end up in the rumen, which is where they are designed to lodge for slow release into the system. They can be fed by covering them with blackstrap molasses and put in their grain, but at this point, they are getting chewed. Some of the copper fragments may end up in locations unintended as they lodge into tissue before getting to the rumen. If you are going to use boluses, I recommend investing the $3 to $5 into a bolus gun and administering them that way for your goat’s safety.
What are wattles for and why do some people cut them off?
Wattles are appendages of excess hair-covered skin that appear on some dairy goats, usually in the throat area and as a pair. It is thought that they are genetically dominant, although I can’t find any genetic proof for that. There is no known purpose for them but I call them “goat jewelry” that adds character to the individual goat. If you have a single-color breed, such as Toggenburgs, it can also help you identify a particular goat. Reasons for removal are various, though not all people remove them and we never did when we had our Toggenburgs. Some people remove them if they grow in odd places such as an eyelid, on the side of the face, or even on the ears like earrings. Some folks that show believe that they can make the neck look shorter or thicker, but if hair is trimmed short I did not find that to be an issue. Still, others remove them to avoid occasional wattle injuries from other kids nursing them or from catching and tearing on a stationary object. Each goat keeper should decide for themselves.
Can I pasture my goats with other animals?
That depends on your animals and your facilities. We successfully pasture our goats with horses, alpacas, and guardian dogs. We do make sure that our pastures are set up where there are no small spaces nor stalls accessible to the mixed sizes of animals so that a goat doesn’t end up cornered, stepped on, or squished by a larger animal. We also don’t feed them together in case a feed dominant larger animal decided it needed to protect its food from a goat, risking a kick injury. Most vets will tell you that some horses do serious damage to goats. So use your judgment to decide if this would work for you.
KIDS, DOES, AND BUCKS
I have a seven-week-old Pygora goat that hardly ever comes out of his Igloo dog house. How can I get him to come out?
If he is by himself there is a good chance at his age that he feels safe in his “cave” and not safe out in the open. It would be really good for him to have a similarly sized goat buddy and very secure fencing to protect him. Then he (they) will be more inclined to come out for play time. Also, make sure that he is warm enough. One kid by itself does not stay as warm as I am comfortable with. Do be sure he has plenty of straw bedding to keep him warm. Also be sure he is getting lovingly handled a lot so that he considers people good company.
My Saanen kids are three months old and weigh about 22 lbs. They are bony and I am worried about their weight. What do you think?
I suggest that your Saanen kids should weigh closer to 13 to 18 kilos (30 to 40 lbs.) at 90 days old. On average, our LaManchas gain 12 to 15 lbs. per month and Saanens should be growing at the higher end of that range. Their weight will be impacted some by their bone frame size, but they should not have visible ribs, a visible spine, or a sharp feeling in those areas to your bare hand. As you rub your hand on their ribs, there ought to be at least 1/4-inch of easily-moving flesh, but I prefer closer to 1/2 of an inch of padding in case one gets ill and starts losing weight.
How often should I be trimming feet and when should I start on kids?
Though people have varying opinions, I prefer to trim my goats’ feet every month, starting at one month of age. In young stock, it’s very important to keep hoof angles correct so that their feet and legs grow correctly without toeing in or out. Problems or tendon issues that can become permanent when the bones finish growing. With mature stock, it’s important to keep angles correct to distribute the stress of carrying milk and/or kids equally through the joints and tendons. In bucks, this is important in the front end since they carry the bulk of their weight over front legs and feet. I do not trim feet on my pregnant does during the last month of pregnancy. If they struggle or bounce, it is easier for a kid to slip off of the umbilicus in the womb. I try to trim them all five to six weeks prior to their due dates.
My 10-year-old Nubian was fine four days ago. Now she has been lying down a lot. She is eating and drinking and has stood up a couple of times but both front legs are very wobbly and after about 15 seconds or so, she lies back down. Could this be her age?
In the dairy goat industry, we hope to get eight to 10 productive years out of a doe. Having said that, some don’t make it that long and some make it longer. The longest I’ve had was a 14-year-old that kidded a beautiful buckling and milked, then passed away that fall. So your 10-year-old doe is on the top edge of life expectancy and could be failing because of age. She also could have foundered her front feet or be experiencing joint problems related to her age. CAE (caprine arthritic encephalitis) could also compromise her front knees although you probably would notice swelling. In this situation, get a diagnosis from a veterinarian. If you believe it is just her time to go be with The Good Shepherd, then keep her blanketed, in good bedding, with food and water accessible to her but not where she could fall into a water bucket. I like to offer warm water often (with a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses for additional minerals and energy) and then place the bucket out of harm’s way. I also like to have them penned where they are not picked on, with a gentle buddy if they have one.
Should I can mix bucks, does, rams, and ewe sheep together in the same pasture?
No! Unless you want vet bills, geeps (goat/sheep crosses which may kill the pregnant animal), and a possible ongoing headache, or worse. Assuming everyone is Johnes, CAE, and CL-free, one could keep the ewes and does together, but the bucks and rams would need to be kept separate. Chances are the buck and ram will fight and may seriously harm one another or you. Please learn more about safely handling bucks and rams before you invest in any.
What is a hermaphrodite? What causes this condition?
A “hermie” as they can be called (or freemartin in cattle) is a goat that will be mixed sex and sometimes incomplete. In a mixed-sex goat, they have a combination of female and male organs/genitalia. In an incomplete, usually female goat, they will be missing part of their reproductive tract as a birth defect, often caused by dam exposure to a toxin during the first trimester. It is also a trait to watch for when there is one doeling and two or more bucklings in a litter. In this case, some of the buckling hormones may cross into the doeling placenta, influencing her development. There is also a statistically larger occurrence of hermaphrodism from breeding polled goats to polled goats, but it can show up in horned goats as well. If you get a hermaphrodite, usually it will be isolated to just that breeding that year. Repeating the breeding USUALLY does not repeat the incidence in horned goats. There may be a slight increase in the possibility of a repeat in a polled breeding that created a hermie kid.
How would I identify a hermaphrodite?
There may be no visible signs that a doe is a hermaphrodite, but often there is. Look for abnormally small teats that just don’t seem to grow, comparing to a few herd-mates of the same age, as well as a vulva opening that doesn’t seem to grow. You can also watch when she pees. Some hermies will have a small penis-type projection just inside of their vulva that also urinates. In that case, she may have two separate streams of urine. Sometimes a hermie isn’t discovered until she fails to cycle or may act excessively “bucky” during breeding season.
How often should I trim my buck’s feet and how should I restrain them?
I like to trim feet on all of my goats every month. My bucks may go six or eight weeks between trims, but besides compromising pattern angles they are also usually much harder to trim when I do that. The monthly schedule makes it easiest on them and me. By the time our bucks are one and a half years old, they are usually too large to be restrained on a milk stand, so we collar them up and clip them to a fence in the corner on an 18-inch lead. My husband will then stand next to the boy and try to keep him occupied while blocking him against a wall while I trim. I definitely wear overalls and gloves during their “bucky” months!
I have a buck that is underweight. Should I do anything extra for him?
Pay attention to his feed, feet, and parasite control. Also consider housing him in deep straw bedding for warmth, protecting him from wind. Consider blanketing him on chilly nights and days, removing the blanket once a day for a quick brushing and on nice days as long as he’s well fed and not shivering. A shivering buck will probably be hypothermic and dead before long. Serving him hot water every day with a tablespoon (a teaspoon for Nigerians or junior standard-sized bucks) of blackstrap molasses and a big pinch of cayenne will help provide more heat for his core as well as needed B and C vitamins to help support his stressed body.
What is pizzle rot? How to bucks get it?
Pizzle rot is an infection at the end of the buck’s penal sheath — the prepuce area. Urine scald and bacteria combine to create a pussy, rotting mess of tissue in the area. A very high-protein diet may contribute to this problem. This is why I always serve grass hay along with the mineral-rich alfalfa my bucks eat. Inspect bucks often to be sure this area stays reasonably clean and dry. Ignoring this problem can cause him to lose his ability to breed due to tenderness in the area and could expose a bred doe to the bacteria on his sheath. It can also go systemic, in which case you could end up fighting for your buck’s life. When I’ve seen this in my herd, I mix five drops of lavender and/or tree essential oil with one teaspoon of olive oil, which I apply to the area after cleaning and drying it. It is also helpful to clip the dry belly hair around the prepuce opening so that the area stays drier and collects less dirt.
How old do bucks get?
I like to see at least seven productive years on a buck though some don’t even live that long. Rarely can they be productive up to about 12 years of age.
IT’S COLD OUTSIDE!
It’s getting cold out. Should I use a heat lamp with my goats?
Absolutely not. Heat lamps and barn fires go hand in hand and every winter I hear of barns and animals lost to them. Healthy, well-fed goats in housing that keeps the wind off of them, with deep bedding, will not need an additional heat source. Make sure your housing is large enough that no goat gets shoved outside to hide from bullies and make sure that everyone has a buddy to sleep with and free choice grass hay. They can also be blanketed if needed. When we lived in snow country, I didn’t consider blankets until we got to about -20 degrees F unless we had an ill or underweight (watch your bucks!) goat. Serve warm water with a pinch per goat of cayenne in it. As your goats drink their fill of water, it will also help them avoid an impacted gut from eating too much dry feed. Remember to serve extra grass hay when it starts getting cold. As they process hay in their rumens they will create a lot of heat for themselves.
How do I know if my goat is drinking enough water when it’s cold outside?
When it’s cold out, goats or other animals normally drink enough water to survive, but not thrive. That decreased water intake combined with increased dry matter (hay or pellet) intake can set them up for an intestinal blockage. Also, elderly animals or those with damaged teeth may be more sensitive to cold water and may not drink enough. To increase water intake during freezing temperatures, serve warm water. Twice a day is optimum. Keeping an electrical teapot or hot pot in the barn, that can be turned on just flipping a switch, will give you boiling water in just a few short minutes to warm the cold water in a bucket. We find this much easier than toting warm water from the house and is easy to do during regular chore time. We also find it better than drawing hot water direct from a faucet. That hot water just came from a hot water heater that probably has a bacterial buildup in it which is why I always take cold water and heat it myself. Some people will add a bit of blackstrap molasses (1 tablespoon per mature standard goat, 1 teaspoon per ND size) to their warmed drinking water to provide additional B vitamins and minerals to their goats while they tank up.
How can I check to see if my goat is dehydrated?
I will check for dehydration in any animal that is looking subpar. I do this by gathering or pinching some skin in between my thumb and forefinger on the goat’s neck. The skin should be elastic feeling and when I let go of it, should snap readily back into place. Not slowly and not leave any wrinkling. If you are not sure, you can do this on several goats and compare what you are seeing.
How can I keep my goats’ water from freezing?
Since goats do not drink enough to thrive when their water is very cold, heating it is a bonus for their health and your milk pail. Heated buckets can be used. In the past when we have used those, we have enclosed the electrical cord in sections of PVC pipe and had the cord immediately go through the fence or stall wall to prevent goat faces from getting anywhere near that cord. Some use tank heaters. If you do that, be absolutely sure that a goat has no access to the heating element, which would cause a severe burn. Also be sure that anything electrical is properly grounded, preferably into a GFI plug. One can also search the internet to find systems that involve dropping a stock tank further into the ground, taking advantage of the earth’s insulating capacity in climates that don’t stay below freezing. There are also systems that involve building a box around the stock tank and filling with styrofoam or manure to provide additional insulation, especially in areas where power isn’t readily accessible. For the really creative types, there are also options that use fire or building a firebox under a metal or concrete tank, leaving a space between the tank and the fire container. Just be sure there would be absolutely no chance of a fire coming into contact with hay, vehicles, or a building in winter wind or breezes. A bit of blackstrap molasses or raw apple cider vinegar can also be added to water to keep it from freezing in just below freezing temperatures.
Are there any precautions with using an electrical cord to plug in my stock tank heater?
Yes, yes, yes! Extension cords need to be considered temporary if you have to use them at all. If it gets damp near the extension cord plug or near a pinhole in the wire coating, your animal(s) or humans could be at risk of electrocution from the spot or any wet/damp area leading to that spot. Make sure that a goat can’t come into contact with any part of any heating element. Cords also must be kept out of reach of busy goats to avoid the risk of chewing on them. Heated buckets tend to be the safest solution for goats to have constant access to heated water.
Katherine and her beloved husband Jerry are managed by their LaManchas, horses, alpacas, and gardens on a small piece of Washington State paradise. Her varied international alternative degrees & certifications including Master of Herbology & lifelong creature experience give her unique insight into guiding others through human or creature wellness problems. Her herb products & consultations are available at www.firmeadowllc.com.
Katherine Drovdahl MH CR CA CEIT DipHIr QTP answers questions about natural goat health in Kat’s Caprine Corner, in each issue of Goat Journal. She and her beloved husband Jerry are owned by their LaManchas, horses, alpacas, and gardens on a small piece of Washington State paradise. Her varied international alternative degrees & certifications, including Master of Herbology and lifelong experience with creatures of many kinds, give her unique insight into guiding others through human or creature wellness problems.
Have a question for Kat’s Caprine Corner? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DIY Goat Udder Balm Means Happy Goats
By Maat Van Uitert
If you have milking goats, then you’ll want to have a goat udder balm on hand. During milking, a goat’s udder can naturally get dry from all the handling, and since she’s providing your family with her wonderful milk, taking care of her udder is one way to say thank you.
There’s also a practical reason. I’ve found during milking season that as our goat’s udder becomes dry, her skin is more likely to get flaky. It causes all kinds of questionable stuff to get in the milk, which I then need to strain off. My homemade goat udder balm helps avoid that unnecessary event and prevents her skin from flaking off all over my hands.
Coconut oil works well in this udder balm. While the coconut oil and shea butter will do the job of conditioning and soothing her udder, I like to also add oregano-infused olive oil to the mixture. If you don’t know how to make an infused oil, simply pour olive oil into a mason jar and add two-three stalks of fresh oregano. Allow to steep for two-three weeks, shaking daily. After a couple weeks, strain oregano out of the olive oil.
I’ve found oregano essential oil to be one way to help a goat suffering from mastitis, so I like to use an infused oil as a preventative. Not only does mastitis render milk unusable, but it’s quite painful for the animal, too. Two signs there might be an issue are if a goat’s milk suddenly turns chunky and/or if there’s a hard area in her udder. While there’s no guarantee oregano-infused oil will prevent an infection, it certainly won’t do any harm and might do some good. There is also no withdrawal period, so it won’t damage the quality of your goat’s milk.
As an aside, unless you are well-versed in essential oils, I would advise sticking with the infused oil in your homemade udder balm. It’s less potent, and in untrained hands, pure oregano essential oil might do more harm than good. If you have small kids also drinking from the udder, applying only oregano essential oil might have adverse effects on them.
I also like to include beeswax in my udder balm recipe, since it solidifies the mixture well, making it more stable in hot weather and increasing its shelf stability. It’s not strictly necessary but it is recommended. You can buy beeswax pastilles, which work great to make this udder balm. Since coconut oil has a low melting point and never gets truly hard unless it’s very cold, I’ve found that without something like beeswax, it becomes gooey. It will be easy to apply, but it will be messy!
After making it, apply the udder balm immediately after milking. I don’t recommend applying it before; just wash her udder and get to work.
Recipe for Goat Udder Balm
- ¾ cup coconut oil
- ¾ cup shea butter
- 3 tablespoons oregano infused oil
- 2 tablespoons beeswax
In a double boiler, melt the coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax, stirring until combined. To create a double boiler, fill a stainless steel pot halfway with water, then add a heat-safe vessel, such as a Pyrex measuring cup, to the pot, making sure none of the water gets inside the measuring cup. Heat the water until boiling, then add your coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax. They will melt from the heat of the boiling water.
Once the first three ingredients are combined, add the oregano infused oil and mix thoroughly. I like to use a spatula that I picked out just for making topical balms and salves. After everything is mixed together, pour the liquid udder balm into a clean container, leaving uncapped until the mixture is cool and solid.
One word of warning with this udder balm. Keep it inside and not in your barn. On cold days, the balm will be rock hard, and on hot days, it might melt into a gooey mess. Keeping it inside and stored on a cabinet shelf is the best place for it.
If you would like to make a nice variation of my goat udder balm, consider infusing lavender leaves along with the oregano. Lavender has some antibacterial properties as well, but the real value is as a relaxant, to help reward your goat after milking. The lavender will help her associate milking with something relaxing.