March 2017 Issue



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The Vital Role That Energy Plays In Pregnancy

Every year I get calls from goat raisers whose pregnant does are aborting and they don't understand why. My first question is, "What is your nutritional program?" because the most common cause of abortions is improper feeding.

Most producers understand the need for increased protein levels during pregnancy. Some recognize the heightened need for long fiber. Few goat raisers understand how critical ENERGY is to a successful pregnancy. Nutritional illnesses of pregnant does almost always trace back to an energy (calorie) deficit in the does' diet. This is a management problem.

ENERGY is the fuel that allows body functions to take place, including fetal development, milk production, body maintenance, and weight gain. Without sufficient ENERGY INTAKE, the goat's body will break down both fat and muscle tissue to use as sources of energy. Animals (and humans) lose weight if they expend more ENERGY than they take in from nutritional sources. Fetuses growing in utero require a lot of calories (energy).

Energy is measured in mega-calories (a million calories). Calories are technically a heat measurement and refer to the amount of heat generated when food is burned. All organic substances have an energy value. Fibrous materials like hay and forage have lower energy values than starches in grains. The energy value of a fiber is directly related to the amount of indigestible fiber in the hay or forage mix because the amount of energy required by the micro-organisms to release the energy from the fiber has to be subtracted from its total energy value. In simpler terms, the more indigestible fiber (usually what we think of as "coarse and stemmy") requires more energy be used to release its energy and therefore the remaining energy available to the goat is substantially reduced. This is one of the reasons why goats require top-quality fibers, including hay.

Starches, which are the carbohydrates in grains, are the basis of energy in goat feed. Fats from animals and oil from plants are energy dense, producing 2.5 times more energy value per pound than starches. However, fats are digested in a different manner from starches and fibers and must be used sparingly in ruminant feeds. When more energy than is required by the goat is consumed, fat will be deposited in layers under the skin and around internal organs where it can be used as an energy source during deficits. Too much fat on a pregnant doe can be worse than too little fat (read below), so "fattening up" a pregnant doe is the wrong thing to do. Getting her nutritional balance right is critical.

To avoid nutritionally-induced pregnancy problems, feed more pounds per goat of both hay and supplement but not fat. It is impossible to give specific advice without knowing the details of what your goats are eating, their productive status, or their size. Most of the time that goats are having problems based upon insufficient energy intake is because they aren't getting enough pounds of feed per day. If they are on poor quality forage,you need to provide supplements with more energy like the blocks and tubs mentioned later in this article.

Pregnancy Toxemia can occur anytime during the last six weeks of pregnancy and is caused by either under feeding or overfeeding. Starvation Toxemia is caused by an ENERGY shortage. A doe's nutritional balance is especially critical in the last six weeks of pregnancy. Feeding too much grain or feeding the wrong kinds of grain is usually the culprit. A late-term pregnant doe has little room for lots of grain, fast-growing fetuses, and the amount of roughage/long fiber (grass hay and forage) required for proper rumen function. A goat goes off-feed when it doesn't get enough long fiber/roughage because the rumen cannot digest food without it. Lots of stored body fat plus a uterus full of fetuses set the stage for Pregnancy Toxemia. Symptoms of Pregnancy Toxemia include off-feed, dull eyes, slow moving, general weakness, tremors, teeth grinding, stargazing, leg swelling, and coma. (Each of these symptoms can represent different problems under different conditions, so producers must know their goats and learn to "think like a goat.") When fetuses die in utero, toxemia occurs as the bodies decay inside her. Often the dam dies too. All of this happens because of improper feeding.

When Pregnancy Toxemia occurs, a dramatic change in feed will not solve the problem. Instead, divide her grain into three or four small meals each day. Make sure that she eats a lot of top-quality grass hay. Leave fresh, clean water out free choice. Also offer some warm water laced with molasses or apple juice to encourage water consumption. The doe needs to drink a lot of water to flush toxins from her kidneys. An occasional handful of alfalfa hay may prove helpful. Proplylene glycol dosed at 60 cc orally twice a day is the appropriate treatment. While this product can be hard on the kidneys and goats usually don't like its taste, propylene glycol's use is often necessary to save the goat's life. An alternative to propylene glycol is a combination of equal parts of 50% dextrose and water given orally at a rate of 60 cc twice per day. Molasses and water or Karo syrup and water can also be used. Get both Vitamin B12 and Fortified Vitamin B Complex into her, and orally drench her with Goat Nutri Drench, Dyne (high-calorie oral energy supplement for dogs, available at Jeffers, 1-800-533-3377), or similar product. Feed the doe as many green leaves as she will eat; in off-growing season, pick dried leaves and offer them to her free choice. Oral administration of CMPK or MFO is desirable. Niacin (Vit B3) at a rate of 1000 mg per day is helpful; crush niacin pills, dissolve them in water, and orally drench her. Daily dosing with probiotic paste is advisable. Moderate exercise is essential; do not allow the doe to be inactive.

A good preventative measure for both Pregnancy Toxemia and Ketosis is to offer all-natural 20% protein sheep-and-goat blocks or tubs free choice to all pregnant does. The energy available from the sugars in these blocks goes a long way towards counteracting nutritional problems. Buy the 33-pound sheep-and-goat blocks or larger baked tubs because they do not have minerals that slow down ("limit") consumption. Make sure that the sheep-and-goat blocks or tubs do not contain urea (non-protein nitrogen). Use these blocks or tubs as supplements to whatever else is being fed. A goat's ability to overeat on these blocks or tubs is almost non-existent. Offer loose minerals made for goats on a free-choice basis; the does will eat the goat minerals as they need them. This is a good example of a situation where a combination block or tub is not desirable. One size does not fit all. This is the only product that I use that has "sheep" on the label.

Ketosis is the term for describing conditions similar to Pregnancy Toxemia that can occur after kidding (parturition) or in the weeks prior to kidding due to increased energy demands of fetal development. Forage/range-raised goats usually experience Ketosis prior to kidding. If the pregnant female does not receive adequate amounts of proper nutrition to feed both herself and her unborn kids, when she begins the kidding process or has just completed kidding, her body will draw upon stored fat reserves in order to produce milk to feed her babies. Then her own body tissues go into starvation mode and deadly ketones are released as by-products of this process. A quick way to diagnose Ketosis: a doe with sweet-smelling urine is ketotic. Ketosis test strips can be purchased at pharmacies; they are an over-the-counter product but usually have to be requested. Placing a ketosis test strip in a urine stream results in a color change that identifies the presence of ketones. Tip: A goat urinates and then defecates when it first stands after having been in a sitting position for some time.

Treatment is the same as described above for Pregnancy Toxemia. Bringing a doe back from Ketosis is difficult; death is often the result. Prevention of Ketosis is simple. Feed her properly during pregnancy and after kidding. Ketosis -- like Pregnancy Toxemia -- is caused by improper feeding.

Hypocalcemia ("Milk Fever") is not a fever at all but instead is a calcium imbalance in the doe's body. The mis-naming of this illness often causes confusion. If a doe is going to become hypocalcemic, it will occur around kidding time. She will become uninterested in eating (go off-feed), may be mildly bloated or constipated, has a cold dry mouth, has difficulty walking and/or rising from a sitting position, has sub-normal body temperature (less than 101.5*F), has cold rear legs and drags them, and usually has very weak labor contractions. Sometimes the only symptom is hind-leg dragging. Rear body parts feel cold to the touch. If the doe cannot get up, place her upright on her sternum and pull her head to one side. This position should reduce the chance of aspirating rumen contents into her lungs that may result from bloating.

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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Hypocalcemia is a complex process involving hormonal changes that occur as the doe's body mobilizes calcium in the production of milk. Feeds rich in calcium, as well as alfalfa and peanut (legume) hay, are believed to be the culprits. These products contain calcium in excess of what the doe needs at kidding time. This excess calcium sets off a chain reaction, causing calcium to be deposited in the doe's bones when her body needs to be releasing it from the bones for milk production. Hypocalcemia is a failure of the body's system to properly mobilize calcium. It is not a deficiency of calcium reserves.

The best way to prevent Hypocalcemia is to lower oral calcium intake via feed during the last 30 days of pregnancy. In most meat-goat herds, this can be done by eliminating legume hays (alfalfa & peanut hay) from the pregnant doe's diet. This puts the doe's body in a slightly negative calcium position, allowing the hormonal system to mobilize its calcium reserves. If legume hays are the only source of roughage available for feeding, then no calcium supplements should be fed during the last 30 days of gestation. Pregnant does on grass hay need to be fed a grain supplement containing 0.5% dicalcium phosphate or equivalent. Remember that rapid changes in feeding patterns can cause ruminal acidosis, so make all changes slowly over fifteen days.

Treatment for Hypocalcemia requires orally drenching the affected doe with CMPK or MFO (different names for the same product). Both products are available from Jeffers ( or call 1-800-533-3377. If caught early, Hypocalcemia is treatable. If allowed to progress untreated, it can result in enterotoxemia, mastitis, retained placenta, and death.

The variety and complexity of problems that pregnant and lactating does can experience should make it clear to you that supplies and medications should be purchased and be on hand at least 60 days before the first doe is likely to go into labor. Not every problem can be solved nor can every doe and kid be saved, but being prepared will make a huge difference in the success or failure of your goat-raising business. Properly fed goats are healthy goats.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 3-5-17

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