April 2013 Issue



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Unlike dairy-goat producers, we who raise meat goats tend to give too little attention to udders. When you think about it, the udder is arguably the most important part of a breeding doe. If she cannot adequately (or at all) feed her offspring, the doe is not of much use to most meat-goat producers.

Just as I recommend performing the FAMACHA field test for worms every time you handle a goat, I also urge that you use your hands to feel the udder and teats of lactating (and even dry) does frequently. Visual observation isn't sufficient and is often misleading; udders can look full but when manually checked you may find hardness, heat or cold, swollen tissue (edema) and little milk. Like looking at a baby rather than checked its tummy by physically touching it to determine fullness, udder examination is literally a hands-on process. Preventing problems (or catching them early) is easier than curing them. A dry and clean environment, especially bedding and resting areas, is essential. Every time a doe sits down, her udder and teats touch the ground. Each time a kid nurses, the bacteria in and on its mouth have access to the udder. Teat openings (orifices) are ready conduits for bacteria.

Any number of conditions may exist involving udders. Physical examination prior to breeding is vital. When kids are born, make sure that they are nursing teats that deliver milk. Squeeze each teat to make sure milk is available, and if it isn't, take your fingernail and gently remove the seal from the orifice. If the doe has fish teats, determine whether they dispense milk or don't work. Check the udder and teats for cuts, abrasions, abscesses, external parasites like mites or lice, fungus, staph, and blisters. Check teats for proper size and shape. Some teats are bulbous, making it difficult or impossible for newborn kids to get their mouths around them to nurse. Does with teats that kids cannot nurse should be culled.

There are many kinds of abscesses; if one is on the udder, determine what it is and resolve the situation before the doe is put with a buck. If an abscess develops on the udder during pregnancy, don't freak out but deal with it rationally. Cuts on either the udder itself or on teats can cause a doe not to let her kids nurse. Some kids can be so aggressive that they bite the teat loose from the udder as the doe tries to get away from them. If kids are doing poorly, check the udder for injury or insufficient milk. You may have to foster them onto another nursing doe or, as a last resort, bottle feed them.

Abrasions can be on the surface of the udder or between the side of the udder and the doe's leg, producing an irritated "crotch rot" type of damage. After cleaning the area, coarse ground black pepper can be applied. Surprisingly, this old goat rancher's remedy actually works, doesn't burn, and heals quickly. Soremouth blisters on teats will keep does from letting kids nurse. See my article on Soremouth on the Articles page of my website at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.

Udder congestion occurs when the udder fills rapidly to tightness or if it isn't adequately nursed. This latter situation occurs when a single kid is born and it nurses solely off one side or if two or more kids are nursing only one teat. Sometimes milk flows better out of one of the orifices, so kids gravitate to it. Congested udder also can occur when kids are weaned. I wean kids one at a time so that the doe's body can adjust to producing less milk for the remaining kids. Pulling all kids off at one time is an unnecessary shock to milk production. Mastitis occurs when bacteria enters the udder and causes an infection. Mastitis can be very difficult to treat because of the dense nature of udder tissue. See my article on Mastitis and Congested Udder on the Articles page of my website.

Meat-goat does usually dry up easily on their own. It usually isn't necessary to pull them off grain, and water should never be withheld. Post-weaning udder dry-off can be helped by cutting back on grain and/or alfalfa after weaning if sufficient forage is available or other nutrition is provided. For those occasional does who do not dry up fully, I would not open the teat orifices to milk them dry unless absolutely necessary because that would provide an entry to bacteria. Does with small retained amounts of milk after weaning must be watched on a regular basis for udder problems.

Kids are hard on udders and teats; they bump, hit, and sometimes bite when trying to access milk. Proper udder care will extend the productive life of your breeding does.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 4/11/13

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