Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, Texas
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, TX
Lohn, Texas
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RUMENS
Feeding the Rumen, Not the Goat

Many of the health problems encountered with goats are rumen-related. Overeating, diarrhea, toxemia (plant, mineral, hay, or grain), listeriosis, goat polio, pregnancy toxemia, ketosis, floppy kid syndrome, laminitis/founder, ruminal acidosis, bloat, antibiotic therapy . . . the list of conditions affecting the rumen is lengthy. Understanding how the rumen functions is basic information needed by goat producers.

The rumen, which is located on the goat's left side, manufactures nutrients by using live bacteria (microbes) to convert food matter into nutrition. Working much like a living compost pile or fermentation vat (and smelling somewhat like one), the rumen begins breaking down food using live bacteria as soon as the goat swallows it. Whatever a goat eats goes directly into its rumen, one of its four stomachs (rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum), each of which has a specialized function. Goats eat by foraging for several hours, then while resting, they regurgitate a chunk of this material (the cud) and chew it. If the pH of the rumen becomes acidic (it should be slightly alkaline - around 7.2), the goat can become sick or die.

What and how much the goat eats are very important to its overall health. The rumen must be properly fed to keep the live bacteria healthy and active. If the microbes are completely consumed or compromised, undigested food becomes toxic and can quickly kill the goat.

The too-common belief that goats can and will eat anything is completely wrong. Goats require a wide variety of different types of plant materials. Unlike sheep and cattle, goats must have very high quality forage/feed. Because goats have fast-acting rumens, things that they've eaten that are toxic to them move through the goat's system rapidly, causing rapid onset of illness and oftentimes death. Every goat producer should have C&D anti-toxin on hand; C&D anti-toxin is used to try to counteract immediate health issues and is short lasting. It is not the vaccine with which goats are routinely vaccinated for long-term protection. There is no substitute for C&D anti-toxin. Have it on hand or likely lose the sick goat. C&D anti-toxin is an across-the-counter perishable injectable biological product and is available from Jeffers (1-800-533-3377 or www.jefferslivestock.com. Keep refrigerated. This is one of the few products made for goats.

A healthy rumen is full of beneficial bacteria. Anything which interferes with the bacterial flora in the rumen is likely to cause health problems in the animal. To better understand the rumen, try this: Take shelled or cracked corn (which people incorrectly feed because it is cheap and goats like it), add water, and watch it swell up. That is what happens inside the rumen. Shell/cracked corn is "goat candy." Ruminal acidosis can be the outcome. Like human kids who will eat candy instead of vegetables and meat necessary for proper nutrition and good health and therefore become ill, goats are prone to doing the same. If they eat to the point that the bacteria in the rumen is used up, Entertoxemia (poisoning from within) will kill them.

Goats will founder, like horses. If they eat feed too high in protein (too "hot"), Laminitis/Founder can occur. It isn't reversible, either, unless you catch it immediately and take dramatic steps. See my article on Laminitis/Founder on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.

Listen to a goat's rumen activity. It makes "growling" sounds several times a minute. The sounds are different with what they eat or drink and at different times of the day or night. Smell the terrible breath that occurs when a goat is chewing its cud. Recognize that a goat will sometimes chew its cud in its cheek like a man chews tobacco. Press your hand to the left side of the goat's body to feel the movement. Put your ear or a stethoscope against the rumen and listen carefully. Do this for several days and with different goats. Learn what is "normal" rumen activity. Recognize the rumen sounds of a healthy goat at rest and that of a goat who is grinding its teeth in abdominal pain.

What goes into a goat largely determines the goat's overall health. A goat out on forage is, all other things being equal, going to be much healthier than a goat that is penned and fed by humans. Intensive management often results in serious problems. Goats will never be successfully "feed-lotted" like cattle. Rumen problems resulting from disease, stress, and/or overcrowding lead to sick and dead goats. Overfeeding on grain means disaster, particularly to very pregnant does and kids just beginning to eat solid food. Pregnancy diseases like ketosis and pregnancy toxemia are caused by improer feeding. Feeding molasses-based feed (horse & mule, sweet/textured feed) or sileage/haylege/baleage, is a recipe for nutritional illnesses. These products can mold, and mold kills goats.

For a healthy goat, think about feeding the rumen -- not the goat.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 9/9/16

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Important! Please Read This Notice!

All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.

In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.

The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)

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