One Teat, Two Teats … A Third Teat?

Three (or More) Goat Teats Can Be Genetic. But Can They Be a Problem?

One Teat, Two Teats … A Third Teat?

You weren’t expecting a third teat when you flipped over that new kid, were you? If they breed goats long enough, every person is going to see a third teat or other goat udder abnormality. Extra goat teats are called “supernumeraries.” Additional deviations include spur teats, split teats, fish teats, blind teats, and excess orifices.

Where does this third teat come from? Most often, these are recessive traits that come with the territory of working through a lot of genetics. Some bloodlines are more prone to throwing them than others. Problems could also be environmental, occurring during first trimester if a doe is exposed to toxins. It is possible for the buck to pass toxins with his semen, if exposed to them during the six weeks before breeding the doe. Medications can also cause these problems, so avoid them where possible before breeding and during first trimester.

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Two correct goat teats are an ideal goal. Clean, non-deviant teats are good for milking but it’s also important for does that are dam-raising kids. Does with a third teat may have less or no function (blind teat) in that supernumerary; a weaker kid may be forced to that teat or a single kid may get fixated on it. Kids actually do die from getting distracted by a non-functioning teat and thinking that, if they suck long enough, there will be food. Blind teats have no orifice or streak canal to provide milk. Even a two-teated doe can have a blind teat. Whenever a doe kids on my farm (or any animal for that fact), I do two to three strips on each teat to be sure that there is no plug and that they are healthy, have colostrum, and are functioning.

Four functioning teats on Siobahn, a San Clemente Island Goat. Photo Credit: EB Ranch

Excess orifices are strange things and I actually had one doe that leaked through the side of her teat. They can also show up as two orifices on the end of a teat. That is a mastitis problem just waiting to happen, as there is more indentation for dirt or manure to pack into.

Sometimes teats can be split or fishtail in appearance. A split teat will have two ends, often with both able to milk. This doubles the orifices, which doubles the opportunity for infection. If a cow loses a quarter to mastitis, that still leaves three of them to feed a single calf; lose half on a goat and you have lost half of the mammary, which may have been feeding two or three kids. Fish teats have a split that is within an inch or two of the bottom of the teat. Many of these are difficult for kids to nurse, which will have a negative impact on growth rate. Are you wondering how to milk a goat with this deformity? Fish teats are very difficult to hand-milk and machine milking is out of the question.

Maisy the San Clemente Island Goat’s “bouquet.” Photo Credit: Rio Nido San Clementes

Spur teats are portions attached to another teat at an angle. They are usually much shorter and usually are attached high up on the teat near the udder floor. The best way to watch for spur teats is to feel for them. Your fingers will feel a bump, indicating a possible spur sometimes before you can see one. Spurs are not always evident at birth but can show themselves even months later. So check teats at intervals as your kids grow, especially before selling or breeding the best goats for milk!

Spur teat with a working orifice. Photo Credit Rio Nido San Clementes

Sometimes I get asked if all of the kids in a litter should go for meat if there is a teat issue in one. Each kid is a unique genetic combination of traits from the sire and dam, so normal kids can be kept. If there are three kids and two of them have teat issues, and the normal one is a buck, I wouldn’t be comfortable with keeping that kid intact. If there is only one abnormal kid, the breeding might even be repeated to find there are no more occurrences. In my mind, it’s better to do a different breeding so that I’m not taking a chance on producing another kid with issues. I also put the dam on a good cleansing diet after kidding, focusing on liver and kidney maintenance if we get any congenital defect, just to rule out any possible toxin interference with early kid development.

May all your goat teats be perfect and may there never be a third teat or any other deviation in your herd!

Katherine and her husband Jerry continue to be managed by their ever-crafty herd of LaManchas, on their farm with gardens and other livestock, in the Pacific Northwest. She also offers hope through herbal products and wellness consultations for people and their beloved creatures at  Signed copies of her book, The Accessible Pet, Equine and Livestock Herbal can also be found there.


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