Thanks to our family’s former and current health problems, and the natural farming experiment we dove into out here, I have been learning all sorts of things about nutrition–for both human and animals. Sara, my Lamancha cross doe, has been a huge part of that learning, as she has been my “guinea pig” of the goats.
Sara, the week we bought her in early April.
Anyway, a few months ago, I read a book titled, Natural Goat Health by Pat Colby. Of all the goat resources and books I have read so far, this is by far my favorite and most used! I highly recommend for anyone who owns a goat! The research she has done, the studies and experiments she has participated in, and the conclusions she has made just make sense to me (and you know how I like things to make sense!).
In any case, Sara really turned around this summer, and after getting a couple more experienced opinions on her, I had decided to go ahead and breed her this fall. I was still battling a couple of issues with her though, and I just couldn’t seem to figure it out. First, I saw worms, and she would have occasional, random boughts of the dog-poop like stool. I used my herbal dewormer, which gave her diarrhea for the 3 day period she was on it, but I assumed it was just a reaction to the herbs. She would be good for a couple weeks, then her poop would go funny, and I would see worms again. Her eating was improving, I had introduced kelp meal supplement free-choice, yet, she still wasn’t gaining any weight. Then, her milk started decreasing. I was about to conclude that perhaps she just had a really bad worm infestation, and I even considered trying a more traditional chemical dewormer like ivermectin or such. Yep, I actually considered unnatural chemicals.
Sara, in late August, after I body-clipped her.
The idea bugged me though. One thing I had read stuck with me, and it was the idea that nutrition is all inter-related. For example, a common deficiency (in both people and goats) is iron. You will find livestock sections in stores sell many iron supplements. As it turns out, however, the absorption of iron is directly linked to the amount of copper in the system. If you are deficient in copper, you can’t properly absorb the correct amount of iron. Oh, but wait! The absorption of copper is directly related to the amount of B vitamins in the body (I can’t right off remember which one). So, essentially, if you have an iron deficiency, and treat with iron supplements, you will only treat the symptom, not the root problem (which is the case with most medications as well–they treat the symptom). In actuality, you need to find out if the root problem is B vitamin or copper deficiency. Along those same lines, a worm infestation can indicate a copper deficiency. Worms just will not stay in a host that is up to par on its copper. Period. So, you treat the root problem, and you will cure the symptom as well. At least that was the idea I had read about.
So, before I went the chemical route, I re-read Colby’s book. The section on copper really got my attention. Copper deficiency causes many of the issues I was dealing with. Decreased milk, complicated births, heavy worm loads, picky eating, and even a slight curl at the end of the hair shaft. Sara has always had a scruffy-looking coat, so I wondered if that was the curl the book was talking about. Another symptom described was a copper-colored sheen that would appear on dark hair, and a fading of colored hair.
This intrigued me. She didn’t seem to have the symptoms linked to the B vitamins, but she had and has lots of the symptoms linked to copper deficiency. I figured it was worth a shot. I never listen to only once source, though, so I really began researching this issue. I found several sources that supported the idea that a goat can be so low in copper that you have to supplement temporarily to bring them back up to normal levels, at which point a maintenance ration of goat mineral should be all they need. The problem is, there are few copper supplements, and no research has been done to find out what “normal” levels of copper are in a goat. In fact, it seems dark-colored goats need more copper than light colored goats. This was not going to be easy!
As the month of October was quickly passing, I realized Sara had yet to show signs of heat, which is another symptom of copper deficiency. I decided I was going to supplement and see what happened. We also were blessed to have a friend who had extra milk and was willing to supply us. Therefore, we decided to allow Sara to dry up, and stop milking her so she could put on more weight. First, I had to find copper sulfate in its purest form. That was not easy, but I finally took a big risk, bought the only kind I found locally, did a little research, and decided to use a safe average of the suggested amounts I found.
I gave Sara an oral bolus of a 1/4 tsp. of copper sulfate diluted in water. Then I prayed. Hard. I was half convinced I had poisoned my goat, and would find her dead in her shed the next morning. I didn’t sleep well that night. The next day, she was doing fine. So, I began step #2, a 7-day regimine of a twice-a-day bolus of a 1% copper sulfate solution. About half way through the week, I was still researching, and came across some before and after photos of some goats who had totally changed color after being supplemented with copper.
Now, I have to point out something here. One of my concerns is that I did something wrong with her feed this summer. She was doing so well improving, yet this copper thing seemed to be a major issue. Did I cause it, or did she come with such a severe case that she just couldn’t possibly eat enough on her own to solve the problem? Truth be told, I just answered my own question as I uploaded photos into this post. Look back at photo #1, the week we got Sara. Notice how scruffy, shaggy, faded, and light her hair is. By the way, she was 4 months pregnant with twins in this photo. Then, notice photo #2, taken 4 months later, in August. She had been on good free-choice minerals and good feeds during that time, and I had finally shaved off the last bit of scruffiness to see what the new growth would show. She was looking much better, and notice how much darker her hair color is. Photo #3 was taken about a week ago, in mid-October. Her hair is longer, and notice how much darker it is. I would say all the faded areas are gone. But then, after researching one day, I had found some photos of a Toggenburg buck that had mysteriously turned totally grey. After being supplemented with pure copper for 10 days, he showed a natural, brown, Toggenburg color in his roots, as they were growing out. Well, I bought a faded brown goat, and she had darkened to a very pretty darker brown goat. Nonetheless, I was curious. So, after 5 days on the intensive copper supplementation, I went out and looked at her roots. Check this out:
In case you can’t tell, this is a photo of me parting her brown-colored hair on her right side. She has almost 1/2 inch of BLACK hair roots! I was so surprised to find that I may have a black goat rather than a brown goat as I have always thought! I can’t believe one nutrient can be so critical! I have seen lots of photos of the copper sheen on mildly-deficient goats with black hair, but if her copper-brown coloring is, in fact, from a copper deficiency, then it was far worse than I could have imagined. Which would explain the lack of her coming into heat, and most of her other symptoms for the last 6 months. As if that wasn’t shocking enough, would you believe after 6 days on the copper solution, she came in heat last night!
I am totally amazed right now. God truly created all things to work together, and in order to be good stewards, it is our job to figure out how to let that happen. Just sitting here typing this, though, and looking at these pictures, I am truly in awe over what a difference God’s design can create. I am so thankful I didn’t turn to the chemicals, as I know a normal copper level will repel the worms just fine. I am so thankful for this goat, who absolutely drives me nutty some days, as she has given me such a wonderful learning opportunity, and there is no doubt in my mind, she will be the one I remember the rest of my goat years!
At this point, I am so eager to take a picture in another 3-4 months, and compare it to this most recent. What color will she be, and how will she look? Guess we’ll all have to wait and see…..