April 2017 Issue



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You've got a sick goat, but you don't know what is wrong with it. These are the steps I follow when diagnosing a goat health problem. My website www.tennesseemeatgoats.com has an Articles page that details many goat illnesses and how I treat them. If you contact me for help, I will ask you many questions about your goat-raising operation before I address the sick goat. This article also explains WHY that information is vital in helping you solve your goat's problem. I am not a vet, but I've been raising goats since 1990. I accept no responsibility if you use this information incorrectly or unwisely. Use at your own risk.

Some obvious conditions tell me that a goat needs help. These include cuts, bleeding, bruises, broken horns or bones, bite or puncture wounds, swelling of body parts, recumbency (off its feet, down and can't or won't get up), limping or dragging of legs, staggering, circling, and other visible indicators.

Several not-so-obvious conditions may exist which should alert that the goat needs help. If the goat is staying away from the herd, remaining by itself and/or not eating or drinking (and it is not a doe getting ready to kid), then the goat likely has a problem. A turned-down tailweb during good weather is also an indicator that something may be wrong. (Healthy goats turn their tail webs down only in cold, wet, and/or windy weather.) Does in the process of kidding may require assistance.

Goats as a species are not hearty animals. Any species that has early sexual maturity (two to three months of age), short gestation (five months), and multiple births (two to five kids) is going to experience significant mortality if help isn't provided. In Nature, the weak die and the hearty survive, thus the reason for multiple births. Goats can adapt to new surroundings over a period of time, but abrupt changes can cause health problems and death. Goats have specialized sensitive rumens that require high-quality (not high protein or high calorie) food intake. The pH of the rumen can go from the normal slightly alkaline to acidic quickly, resulting in illness or death. Goats eat from the top down when foraging; that is where they find tender vegetation which is most palatable to them and the way they try to avoid the ground-dwelling blood-sucking stomach worms that cause anemia and kill them. Like deer, goats are "picky" eaters in order to keep themselves healthy.

Goats are herd animals; they dislike being alone. A goat by itself is uncomfortable and agitated. Other than horns, goats have few natural defenses. Because they are sprinters and not long-distance runners, they cannot outrun predators. The herd means safety. Most people's impression of what goats are and how they live is 180* out of sync with reality.

A goat alone is usually a goat in trouble.

Here is what I do when I find a sick or injured goat:

Examine the goat from head to toe for obvious problems. Check for dehydration, runny or ulcerated eyes, nasal discharges, bloated body barrel, impacted cud, broken or bad or missing or worn-out teeth, obstructions in the mouth, hot or hard udder, vaginal or anal secretions, strange smells coming from the mouth or the rectum/vaginal areas, retained placenta (if the doe has just kidded), foreign objects or inflammation on the edges of or in or between the hooves, ripped or torn udder, labored breathing, difficulty in urinating or defecating, vaginal or anal prolapses, skin irritations, loss of hair or change in hair coloration, shivering, hunched back, teeth grinding, out-of-the-ordinary vocal sounds, dragging and/or cold legs, color of the inner lower eye membrane, dehydration, diarrhea.

If the doe is pregnant, smell her urine; sweet smelling urine is an indication of ketosis. Check each newborn kid for a cleft palate, fully-formed hooves, functional rectal and vaginal openings and penile shaft. Make sure all the body parts appear intact and functional on newborn kids. Determine if the kid is premature.

After this initial physical examination, look at what the the goat is eating and the environment in which it is living. Both factors have a major effect on the goat's health. A well-fed (not over-fed or starved) goat living in a clean, dry, and uncrowded environment is usually a healthy animal.

Have there been any grain, hay, or mineral changes in the goat's diet? Have pastures been changed? Has the goat been moved from one herd to another or new goats introduced into the herd? Is the sick animal new to the ranch? Has the kid been recently weaned? Has the dam recently had her kids weaned off her? Changes in climate, location, feed, and herd mates dramatically affect goats. Goats do not move or travel well, even for short distances.

Do not run for the antibiotics. Over-use and incorrect usage of antibiotics have caused many of these products to become ineffective when they are really needed. Antibiotic usage is indicated only when fever or inflammation is present.

The important FIRST step: Take the goat's rectal temperature. Normal body temperature for a goat is 101.5*F to 103.5* F. If the goat has been running or is out in direct sunlight on a hot day, allow one degree higher. Rectal temperature should give an indication of what to do next. Fever is preferable to sub-normal body temperature on my ranch, as fever is usually easier and quicker to treat. Fever will make a goat go off-feed. What is causing the fever? Treatment of illnesses involving fever is very different from illnesses where fever is not present.

Kids and pregnant does are medicated differently from adults in some instances; determine the problem, then find the solution, remembering that there are specific medications to be used for respiratory, ruminal, injury, and infectious disease situations. Since the number of goats in the USA is small, few manufacturers produce products for the species, so you must learn how to use what is available off-label. No one medication is applicable to all situations. Prescription medications are generally more effective than over-the-counter products. More and more products are going prescription, so establish a working relationship with a vet. Medication protocols used at Onion Creek Ranch are on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com in an article entitled Goat Medications and How to Use Them.

If the goat has sub-normal body temperature, this is a 'red flag' to act quickly. In my experience, most of the low-body temperature problems occurring in goats (assuming that the goat is not already dying) are attributable to hypothermia in newborn and young kids or rumen problems in goats that are no longer kids. Too often the blame for this situation on the doorstep of people who heavily manage their herds by over-feeding grains, under-feeding grass hay, providing improper levels of nutrition, and/or not furnishing appropriate loose minerals.

Subscribe FREE now! Monthly issues with new articles and other educational information on meat goat health, nutrition, and management written by Suzanne W. Gasparotto of Onion Creek Ranch and Pat Cotten of Bending Tree Ranch. In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Neither Suzanne Gasparotto nor Pat Cotten are veterinarians. None of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.


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A newborn or very young kid with sub-normal body temperature is a critically-ill goat. There is no time to waste. A shivering or hunched-up kid is probably starving and dehydrated, or if a bottle baby, it has likely been fed too much milk too frequently and Floppy Kid Syndrome (overeating on milk) exists. A kid (or adult) dragging its hind legs may be selenium-deficient. Severe bright yellow diarrhea and accompanying listlessness in a very young kid may be an indication of an eColi infection; eColi is a big killer of pre-ruminating kids. A kid who is staggering, circling, weak-legged and has a rigid neck may be starving and dehydrated or may have goat polio or possibly tetanus. Dehydration/starvation hits fast in a species with a very fast metabolism; Tetanus kills quickly, while goat polio runs a longer course. Diarrhea is a symptom of a problem, not an illness itself, and can be a sign of many things, including heavy worm load or coccidiosis. Most of these problems are rumen-related and caused by the goat owner's incorrect feeding and management.

Adult-goat rumen problems include listeriosis, ruminal acidosis, bloat, and enterotoxemia (overeating disease). Articles detailing how I diagnose and treat these conditions can be found on my website's Articles page at http://www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.

Performing your own fecals or having a vet do them for you on at least a monthly basis is essential to the health of your herd. Routine regular fecal evaluation is especially important when young kids are on the ground. FAMACHA field test for worms tells you that you already have a big problem; "the horse is out of the barn." Coccidiosis, which usually but not always manifests itself with dark watery diarrhea, is a quick killer of young kids. There is no substitute for doing fecal counts to determine parasite loads in goats.

With goats, it is usually the simplest thing, so I check for worms, cocci, pneumonia and eliminate them before going on to more exotic illnesses. The vast majority of goat health problems involve incorrect nutrition and poor management, which includes over-crowding, climate too wet, and unclean environment.

Keep essential emergency medications and supplies on hand and within easy reach. Health crises often occur when stores are not open and vets aren't reachable. Most Illnesses kill goats quickly, leaving no time to get the needed products (assuming that they are available locally, which may not be the case). See my article entitled Supplies Every Goat Rancher Needs on the Articles page of: http://www.tennesseemeatgoats.com. These supplies are a significant initial investment of money, but losing a quality goat (and possibly unborn kids) is a considerable expense, too.

Observe your goats carefully. Learn each animal's unique behavioral and personality patterns. They are there for you to see, if you pay attention. 'THINK LIKE A GOAT" (tm) and you will be able to see many problems before they become life-threatening.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 4/9/17

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