Sara is a trainwreck. I just didn’t know that when I bought her. Thankfully, I think she has potential, though. If I had the ability to replace her right now, I would cull her, we would have a yummy goat-meat supper, and she would be out of all present and future misery. Since I don’t have the ability (seeing as how she is primary milk producer now), she has become my “guinea pig” to learn all I can.
Sara is 3/4 Lamancha and 1/4 Saneen. She was born in 2010, bred to a Saneen buck in December, and delivered her twins on Mother’s Day this year. Sara came from production dairy lines, rather than show lines, so, while she isn’t necessarily conformationally correct, she definitely has the production genes! Her grand-dam produced around 14 lbs, while her dam produced about 12 pounds of milk each day. Sara wound up being sold–supposedly because she was the result of a first-freshening, and they typically sold such kids.
I bought her in April, heavy with kids, and I noticed a few things about her. First, her hooves were quite overgrown. Secondly, I noticed her front legs seemed a little crooked, but I assumed it was due to the overgrown and mis-shapen hooves. She was also very timid–as in we couldn’t get near her without a lot of effort, so I had my work cut out for me. I spent a few weeks getting her used to me. I tried treats of all sorts, but she really wasn’t interested. I got a good collar, and began walking her to the milk stand for a treat of grain. I would give dog-like leash corrections from my dog-training days when she pulled violently. I have since learned this may not be ideal, though. Apparently, it is very easy to accidentally crush a goat’s windpipe (a fatal mistake), so I am more cautious with it now. Nonetheless, it did seem to calm her down a bit. I also started tying her out on a cable to graze, in the hopes she would start looking forward to seeing me more. She is still far from “friendly,” but she has come a very long way in 2 1/2 months! While she still doesn’t want to meet me at the gate and allow me to reach out and pet her, if I simply hold the gate open, she will now run out and jump on the milk stand. She likes her grain, I guess.
Then, I purchased a good hoof trimmer. I studied up on how to trim, developed ways to catch her, and did the deed about 2 weeks before her kids were due. S had to hold her, while I did a quick trim. Her feet were such a mess, and I had no goat-hoof trimming experience, so I didn’t want to take too much lest I leave her lame. I took off enough to make me feel better, and hopefully give her a good start. It didn’t help her legs straighten at all.
So, it was back to the books and the internet. I came across a condition known as “bent leg.” Surprisingly, I have found only one bloggy friend who is familiar with it. Even the local vet and a 4-H leader who raises goats had never heard of it. The lack of knowledge made it difficult to come up with a treatment plan. I was basically left with my research.
Bent leg, as it turns out, is due to a nutrient deficiency, typically during the first few months to year of life. Depending on the source I read, different minerals were to blame, and treatment success was variable. The Merck Veterinary manual blamed a calcium/phosphorus imbalance, I believe, while other sources blamed copper or selenium. One source even mentioned a lack of Vitamin D as being a contributing factor. Whatever the cause, the result is weak bone stucture that winds up causing the long bones to warp, basically. The treatment is simply a better, more balanced diet. If caught early enough, the bones may correct themselves, or at least not get worse as the kid grows. Sara also happened to have a long haircoat (not typical of a Lamancha or Saneen), appeared unthrifty overall, and pooped chunks (like a dog) rather than goat-berries. Everything pointed to a severe nutrient imbalance. In Sara’s case, she was over a year old when I got her. The dairy practiced CAE prevention, so she was raised with other kids in a pen in the barn (no sunlight for several weeks), bottle-fed, and later put in a pen with about a dozen other does, where she was low-man in the dominance line. She was thin when I got her, obviously lacking many nutrients needed for her health. So, in that sense, I guess bent leg totally fits the mold. I think it was very irresponsible to breed her in the condition she was, and the lady told me that she had done it to increase Sara’s sale-ability. Sara had always been timid, and no one had bought her, so the lady figured if she was bred, someone would take her (some poor sucker like us, in other words!). When she kidded a month later, she had very light contractions, trouble delivering, and very different-birthweight kids. Again, all signs of severe nutrient deficiencies.
So, now I have a goat that could have had a great deal of potential, except for these problems. I finally decided, she will be great to learn on for future reference. The things now in her favor is that, amazingly, she produced 2 beautiful, and very healthy kids, and secondly, she is a very good milk producer. I get almost 1/2 gallon with morning milking, and I think I could safely estimate I will get over a gallon a day once I wean Lilly.
So, I came up with a “natural” plan of attack. I didn’t want to totally overload her system with an influx of healthy stuff–particularly while she was pregnant. I knew that could cause more problems. So, when I got the goats, I played around with their basic feed for a couple weeks, finally settling on a good, free-choice, timothy-grass hay and twice-daily feedings of organic alfalfa pellets. When they get milked, they get a 50/50 blend of organic dairy pellets mixed with a cheap sweet feed for more palatibility. I periodically mix organic, raw apple cider into the water. I mix diatomaceous earth into their alfalfa pellets and grain mix to help with intestinal parasites. In addition, we built a supplement feeder, where they have free-choice access to baking soda (in hopes of correcting Sara’s poop issue) and a good goat mineral that’s high in selenium and copper. Just to ensure they always have access to minerals (Lilac tends to dump the supplements on occasion), I also have a trace-mineral salt block in their shed.
Then, there is the physical side to tend to. I have been watching Sara’s weight carefully, particularly with the additional strain of late pregnancy and now heavy milking. Thankfully, she is slowly gaining and looking healthier, though she still has a ways to go. After that initial trim, I gave her another trim a few weeks after kidding. This is an area where info for goats gets very difficult to find. Therefore, I have reverted back to my experience with horses with bad hooves. Based on that, my theory is that, naturally, the hoof health directly depends on the overall health. Once health improves, it takes a horse 6 months to grow a new hoof. I am estimating it will take Sara about 2-3 months–starting after the kids were born. The big problem with her hooves is that the bent leg means she doesn’t stand properly, causing them to splay out and grow very unevenly.
Even her pads are cock-eyed, making it difficult to trim. So, after the birth, I re-trimmed a bit more aggressively, then (don’t laugh) duct taped the 2-divisions of the hooves together. I figure many horse hoof issues can be corrected with shoes. They don’t make shoes for goats, so duct tape fixes anything, right? We’ll see.
It may be completely pointless, but I have to try something. At this point, it is hard to say if there is improvement in her hooves, but it’s only been a couple weeks since I started this. My plan is to keep at least the toes of her hooves taped together as much possible to add support as the new hoof grows out. I plan to trim almost weekly, hopefully weaning her down to every 6-8 weeks (which is more normal for a healthy goat). I trimmed this morning, getting the most agressive so far. I trimmed her heel pads down to not-quite-even with the hoof wall, trimmed the edges down to more flush with the pad, trimmed the hoof divisions to match each other more closely, took off any distinct points and overgrowth of the toes, and even nipped off a bit of the “dew-claw” part of the hoof–the horny growth that comes out the back of the legs (Sara’s are very long). This is a lot of work, but I am learning soooo much! Now that I write all that, perhaps there has been some progress. This was, afterall, the first time I was even ABLE to make the hooves somewhat match each other. That was physically impossible the first trim!
I am truly hoping that with the balanced diet, the good organic (as much as we can) diet, the good minerals, and less competition, I am really hoping Sara will make great progress. Even an improvement in her hair coat would go a long way to improving the way she looks. If I could get her back feet in good shape, that would be tremendous success! I don’t expect her front feet will ever be less-than-high-maintenance, as the damage was already done. I am relieved, though, to know that it isn’t likely a genetic issue. If I can improve the rest of her health overall, I may even go ahead a give her a second shot at breeding. I have high hopes for her. While my long-term plan does not include keeping her, I am hoping, for her sake, that she will come around. That way, I could sell her if nothing else, and allow someone else in our shoes to learn from her and be blessed by her milk–even if I have done all the hard work!