Katherine’s Caprine Corner November/December 2020
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Q. Why do some breeders stop feeding alfalfa to pregnant does?
A. Being a trained herbalist and having raised dairy goats for over 20 years, and knowing many breeders that have had them 40 and 50 years, we continue to feed alfalfa through the entire pregnancy. In the dairy cow industry (which goats are not), cows can be set up for milk fever if farmers aren’t very careful in balance calcium and phosphorus ratios. But in goats, we don’t have to micromanage that. Also, goats are more likely to GET milk fever, or hypocalcemia, if they don’t get enough high calcium WHOLE herb foods while pregnant. Winter and pregnancy and the dry period are when they are building up their mineral savings account in their bones. If their bones don’t get enough minerals, including calcium, then your goat can go “bankrupt” when they start coming into milk. While my goats are milking, they continue to get free choice alfalfa, which is the most mineral-rich land feed we are aware of. Free choice means just that: they get all they can eat. If yours aren’t getting that, work them up to that over two-plus weeks so you don’t overwhelm their systems and cause acidosis, or worse yet, enterotoxemia. Come the time of year when my lactating goats don’t have much for pasture available, I add grass hay to their menu at the rate of one flake of grass hay for every two flakes of alfalfa. If they are bucks, I feed half and half year-round. This has worked very well for us for over two decades without having to crunch numbers or micromanage my goats. I also make mineral-rich kelp available, along with whatever herb blends I want to give them at the time.
Q. Should I feed cottonseed or flaxseed?
A. Flax! Here is why. Before GMO cottonseed was available, one of the phytochemicals (plant chemistry components) in cottonseed was gossypol. Gossypol is a toxin that will accumulate over weeks to months to toxic levels. Damage to the liver, kidneys, and or the heart can cause sudden death. Preruminants are more susceptible, but ruminating goats are also susceptible. Even if you only feed “a little bit,” remember that the cumulative effect will store in the cells and tissue and cause them to degenerate in wellness with every cellular regeneration. Who wants to have their goats be less productive, have less weight of gain, or less immunity besides starting or increasing damage in the heart, liver, or kidneys? That certainly isn’t sustainable nor conducive to abundant wellness. And now GMO cottonseed is what is mostly available, which is marketed as “safe” for livestock, when GMO, in reality, isn’t really safe. Look up Morgellon’s disease as well as other immunity issues. Flaxseed, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem and is a great fat source for you goats. I like feeding WHOLE seed at the rate of one tbsp for standard goats over 100 pounds, one to two times per day, and for goats 75-100 pounds at ½ tbsp. Pre-ground flax or any seed with a shiny coat is becoming rancid (hepato/liver toxic) as it’s exposed to air.
Q. What is the difference between pregnancy toxemia and ketosis, and how would I work with it?
A. Both of these metabolic disorders are the same condition. What is different is the timing of them. Pregnancy toxemia occurs during pregnancy, often later in third trimester. Ketosis happens after freshening and usually early in the lactation. Both of them are caused by an energy imbalance when the caloric/carbohydrate needs of the doe become greater than what her feed is providing for her. In that situation, the doe will start metabolizing fat at a fast rate to provide more calories for her in-utero kids’ quick growth needs or for her quickly increasing lactation needs. As she metabolizes fat at this fast rate, toxins that were trapped in the fat are released into the bloodstream quicker than the liver and kidneys can break them down. This results in too much toxicity in the bloodstream, which causes the goat to go symptomatic. This often shows as being off feed and listless, and as they go further along, also swelling in the lower legs. They may also grind their teeth and have a chemically sweet “ketoic” breath. Left on their own, these does usually die, as they need increased calories at a time when they feel too nauseated from the toxins to want to eat. I found early in my goating years that the most susceptible goats were those that were heavy milkers, those carrying triplets or more, and those that were finer-boned. Also consider that pregnant goats have less space to process hay and feed in their rumens, the larger the kids get, but at that same time have the greater nutritional and caloric needs. I learned over time to start grain feeding slowly once my does hit third trimester, which is about the last seven weeks of their pregnancies. Then every week, I increase their grain until I have them up to their full milking ration at about the seventh week. So many people will counsel you to add grain just the two weeks prior to kidding, but that doesn’t match the physiology of the fast-growing kids. Once I started doing that, I never saw toxemia again. If I were to face that today, I would use blood-cleansing herbs (normally, l don’t like to do that during pregnancy but in this situation we have to save the doe) and I increase calories with careful olive oil drenches the moment I see a pregnant or freshly lactating doe going off of feed.
A very blessed and wonderful giving of thanks and Christmas holidays to you and yours this season! Always, The Drovdahls and herds at Fir Meadow.
LaManchas, Suri/Huacaya alpacas, and Norwegian Fjord horses share their bit of Northwest paradise with Katherine and her hubby, Jerry. Besides having several alternative certifications including a Master’s degree in herbalism and Master’s training in aromatherapy, she operates for Fir Meadow LLC which offers hope through herbal products and consultations for goats, animals, and people, and also has signed copies of her book, The Accessible Pet, Equine and Livestock Herbal. Due to her very busy schedule, after many years of writing for Goat Journal/Dairy Goat Journal, she is passing the baton for Q&A to a new person. It’s been delightful to share with all of you over the years.
Originally published in the November/December 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.