For the last 2 weeks, I have been very busy with my goats. I have been busy caring for Lilac in particular, and equally busy learning from new, frustrating, and unexpected experiences. Before I go further, please know that everything has turned out just fine, and Lilac is now doing great. If you are interested in details, read on. I’m sorry, but it is a very long post. This post is actually written more for my own future reference rather than readers’ enjoyment. However, if it can help someone along the way, great.
I have spent the past 9 months (since we got goats) studying, researching, experimenting, and learning how to make a goat thriving, healthy, and happy. Sara was my biggest learning project to date, and she is doing exceptionally at this point, with a rapidly expanding baby belly, and looking better than I’ve ever seen her. Things have been going well, and I was looking forward to kidding season.
Then, about 3 weeks before Lilac kidded, I noticed she had some tapeworms in her poop. She still had normal pellets, though, and I understand that late pregnancy hormones can sometimes give worms a foothold, so I just monitored. Otherwise, everything was fine with her. Then she kidded, and we lost one. That was my second clue something was wrong. 2 days later, the tapeworms were much worse, and her stools were becoming like cow patties. I put her on the Hoegger 3-day herbal dewormer regimine that I always used for Sara. Her stools couldn’t make up their mind though. One day, she was normal, then they would be loose. I was about to chalk it up to post-natal hormones screwing her system up. Within a couple more days, she wasn’t eating her grain as well. That was a first. She has always loved her grain. At the same time, though, she would eat hay, corn, and any treat I offered her, but not her grain. I was puzzled. I researched milk fever, remembering something about a low appetite, but she had no other symptoms. As a precaution, though, I did give her some extra molasses water and vitamin C. I figured I would just give her some time to get her system in order. As the days passed, there were no new symptoms, but I just felt something wasn’t right. Her stools had also become a consistent clumpy mess instead of pellets, though she never had scours. I have been milking her since 3 days after the kids were born (we desperately need any amount we can get right now), so I was able to closely monitor her grain-eating. It would fluctuate a bit, but she never once cleaned her bowl. Then, the tapeworms returned.
One morning, I walked out, and something on her face got my attention. Upon closer inspection, I realized she had something wrong with her mouth. I remember seeing photos in an article I had read in the past, so I ran to the computer to confirm my suspicions….scabby mouth. Depending on which article I read, it was called Goat pox, scabby mouth, or Orf. All articles described it as a virus akin to human cold sores and chicken pox, and it was supposedly highly contagious–both to other goats and to people. The good news is that it is not serious, just ugly, runs its course in a 3-4 weeks, and then the goat is immune for life. The only danger is if the scabs got so bad the goat stopped eating much–in this case, medications were required. I came across all sorts of remedies to treat the symptoms and try to prevent spread and misery, but all articles implied misery was involved and it had to run its course. By the time I finished reading, I was envisioning a half-bald goat by the time this thing ran its course–and that would be a nightmare since she has been sold for pickup in a couple months.
My first question was “Where did it come from?” She hasn’t been around any outside goats in at least 2 months. Secondly, since she has always been so healthy, “Why did it happen?” I ran to the source that I have begun to trust most…Pat Colby’s Natural Goat Care book. I looked under all names to make sure I covered my bases. Each one said the virus could be in the feed or bedding (some of which we buy from outside sources), and even the soil (which had goats on it before we moved here). Sure enough, she said a healthy goat would not be affected, although it could be a carrier and transmit it (Onyx, Faith, or Bell maybe?) Even then, however, a goat with sufficient copper would not break out. The good news, according to Colby, was that a goat did not have to suffer, and you didn’t have to deal with an outbreak in the herd or a bald, scabby, miserable goat. A simple topical solution of copper, cider vinegar, and water applied for a couple days should clear it right up (So simple…it’s amazing that so many professionally-written articles don’t know this!). Then, I looked into the tapeworm issue. Wouldn’t you know, according to Colby, tapeworms hate copper worse than all other worms, and their mere presence indicates a copper deficiency.
So, I immediately isolated Lilac and the babies from the other goats (just as a precaution if my theory was correct, and it was contagious), and started her on a 1% oral copper solution twice a day, in addition to the copper/acv topical applied twice a day. I figured it certainly couldn’t hurt anything. Within 24 hours, it was obvious the scab was not spreading, and another 24 hours resulted in the scab falling off. To my utter astonishment, after 48 hours of the oral drench, tapeworms made a mass exodus from her intestines!! I don’t mean to imply she had a horrible outbreak–she didn’t (I have seen much worse in dogs back when I was a vet tech!!), but I have just never seen them all come out simultaneously. It was pretty impressive, actually! She was on the treatments for 3 days, the wound was healing, and I saw no further signs of tapeworm.
A few more days passed, and Lilac began eating less and less. It was obvious she was not thriving, but I just couldn’t figure it out. There was nothing physically wrong, the babies were doing great, the mouth sore was clearing up, and she eventually reached a point where she wouldn’t even take treats. Then, I noticed Lilac puffed her hair all up and began shivering–a sign of decreased body temperature. I called my friend and experienced goat mentor and explained the situation. She suspected (with me) that Lilac had milk fever, aka hypocalcemia. Essentially, the goat is unable to properly utilize stored calcium for the sudden milk production after kidding. She gave me an oral drench (CMPK), and some Nutri-Drench for energy. I gave both to Lilac, stopped milking her (the kids were still on her, but I didn’t want to deplete any more of her energy), and waited. (FYI, I learned after the fact that concentrated calcium–such as CMPK is very caustic and burns. I learned because it felt like the tiny little wound on my hand was on fire, and poor Lilac was miserable for several hours afterwards.) The next morning, there was no change or improvement, and I noticed her rumen sounds had decreased. She was beginning to look pretty rough, and she was hiding out in her shelter a lot.
With goats, there seems to come a point of no return (or so I’ve heard). There comes a point, if you wait too long, where a goat will just give up and die. I had been monitoring Lilac closely, and although she wasn’t at that point, I definitely didn’t want to risk it any longer. I was baffled, she wasn’t improving, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. As you know, I realize there is a place for modern medicine after the alternatives have been tried, and I feared we had reached that point. S agreed to paying the vet bill, because it was a learning experience. So, I took Lilac in to the vet.
The vet walked in, drew blood and tested her calcium, magnesium, potassium, and a few other CBC levels. Everything was pretty normal. The calcium and magnesium was fine (ruling out milk fever), no signs of infection were shown (ruling out an unborn baby or retained placenta), he ruled out Ketosis, and nothing was clearly wrong at first. However, her temperature had dropped from the normal 102* to 100* (which caused her to shiver and fluff up), and there were few rumen sounds (which implies her rumen function had slowed drastically).
He gave me his educated and experienced theory, and combined with my earlier observations, here is what it likely boiled down to… For some reason, the latter part of the pregnancy depleted some of Lilac’s copper. We have since discovered that our ground water may contain high levels of molybdenum. This may have caused a deficiency, which also caused the pro-longed labor. The stress of later pregnancy hormones, in addition to the decreased copper, likely allowed the tape worm to take root. This all combined to create a very mild stress for her body, which would otherwise have been very simple to overcome. However, the actual delivery of multiples sent her stress level over the threshhold, so to speak. For some unknown reason, sometimes an overly stressed goat will experience digestive upset, essentially, which allows their rumen function to slow down. This, in turn can throw off their entire system and eventually cause an entire shut down of organ functions. Apparently, this is what happened to Lilac. The decreased rumen function messed with her entire system, which allowed the scabby mouth to take root. (FYI, the vet was not at all concerned about the mild, healing sore). She was apparently a very healthy, hardy goat, as apparently, this process often happens within hours of delivery. In Lilac’s case, it took 10 days, and she was still going when I took her in, just not thriving like I wanted. In any case, he pumped her rumen full of oil, gave her some Banamine and antibiotic injection, and sent her home. He said to give her 24 hours and see what happened. He also sent me home with 2 additional antibiotic injections to be given over the following 2 days to help prevent enterotoxemia.
By that evening, Lilac was nibbling at her hay. I freshened up her hay, pellets, and grain, and made up some warm molasses water with dolomite and VitC. Before bed, I also gave her a dose of Nutri-drench. Interestingly, I also freshened up her straw bedding, and Lilac attacked the straw with a vengence, eating it as fast as she could. I suspect it was akin to a dog or cat eating grass when they have an upset tummy. She knew what she needed. The next morning, Lilac was out of her shed nice and early, nursing her babies, and starting to look more alert. A few hours later, all her puffy hair disappeared, and she was talking to me again for the first time in several days. I put her and the babies out to pasture, and she seemed back to her old self. I offered her some Kefir (excellent natural probiotic), which she obviously hated, but willingly drank. I eventually put her back in her pen, and she finished off the little grain I had given her, plus ate much of her pellets and hay. That evening, I also gave her a dose of Probios (more probiotics), to ensure all the gut bacteria was sufficiently replenished since she was still on antibiotics. She is now well on the mend, and looking much better. She lost a bit of weight during the ordeal, but I suspect she’ll put that back on pretty quickly.
Which leads to the big question of “How do I prevent future occurences?” I am convinced the diet is great, as I have done so much research, I have compared to other natural herds, and Sara, of all goats, is thriving on it. I have found out several other does have recently delivered twins or triplets in our local area (within a couple miles of us) in the last 2 weeks, and have suffered similiar complications. Several lost the entire kid crop, experienced premature births, I know of one uterine prolapse, and two families lost the doe and all 3 triplets. Just this morning, my mentor’s doe successfully delivered triplets, and within hours, it appeared that her rumen began shutting down as well. By nightfall, she was totally off her feed and her back legs were paralyzed. Thankfully, my friend caught it early, gave her the needed supplements, and the doe perked back up by morning. Still, it’s strange. I know complications can potentially happen with any birth, but I am beginning to suspect an issue with our ground water in the area–perhaps an unusual increase in the molybdenum levels. Molybdenum in itself doesn’t typically cause a problem, but it acts as a binding agent for copper, essentially rendering most of the copper useless to the animal. Because goats have such high copper needs anyway, they would literally have to eat it almost constantly to allow the molybdenum to be used up, then have a copper surplus available for processing into the body. Fascinating, but frustrating nonetheless. The stillborn we had may well be related. Because my girls have access to ridiculous amounts of copper, is likely what allowed Lilac to remain so healthy through the ordeal, whereas none of the other goats lost recently had nearly the copper my girls do. We are considering having a water test done, but in the meantime, there seems to be something contributing to a copper shortage, but only when stress is added to their system (ie. late pregnancy and delivery) does the issue become a big problem.
In order to be pro-active, I have started adding small amounts of copper sulfate to the grain for everyone. I am keeping a very close eye on the other girls, but so far there are no signs or symptoms of worms, scabs, or anything else unusual. However, if I see any symptoms of the goat pox or a worm infestation, then I will treat with copper immediately, as I would know they are short on reserves and it would only get worse as the pregnancy progresses. Onyx, in particular, is due in 5 weeks, and she is HUGE!!! She is also the only solid black goat I have (meaning she has higher copper requirements), and she still has some very light sheen on her black fur I am monitoring. In addition, I have learned the entire rumen issue could fairly easily be prevented, or at least improved with different treatments. So, I am preparing for our next delivery by having probios (probiotics), Bovi-sera (a harmless, natural serum for overall pick-me-up), slippery-elm herb to mix with my dolomite and Vit.C in case the rumen does have issues, and some Nutri-drench as a more balanced pick-me-up than molasses. I have also purchased Vit A,D, &E paste, and Vit. B Complex Paste as backup pick-me-ups. One thing I learned through all this, is that the great thing about natural remedies is that, unless abused significantly, they are incredibly safe. Because these items are normally found in good feeds, the body can easily process them, and typically, any excess will just be passed out of the system. It was neat seeing that the doses of copper, nutri-drench, and CMPK (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium paste) had done nothing to affect Lilac negatively, as seen on her lab work. She simply used what she needed and stored or expelled what she didn’t. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to go overboard (hence the reason I like the 1% copper solution–too much copper can be fatal, but it is very difficult to OD a goat with such a mild solution). I bought the other items based on things I wished I’d had on hand through this. For example, through all the research I have been doing the last couple weeks, I now understand that Bovi-sera injected at the first sign that she was a little off may have well kicked her system back into gear and avoided everything else. The same may have happened with a good dose of B-complex.
In the mean time, if anyone has any other recommendations or ideas regarding why this type of copper shortage is happening, I would greatly appreciate hearing them! I would also love to hear about what you do to be pro-active. I don’t want to go injecting my goats with anything unneccessary, since every injection poses its own risk. I also aim to breed for and keep hardier goats that are low maintenance. If, however, it is an environmental factor at play, I’ll just have to figure out what it is and deal with it. I confess, I have been very worried for Lilac. Having such a small herd allows me to get to know my goats very well, and any little thing that’s “off” with them is quickly noticed. Nonetheless, I had a few very nervous moments, said a few prayers, checked her continually at all hours, and everything seems to have paid off now. Thank the Lord for His blessing, the vet for his knowledge and meds, and my mentor for her insights. As frustrating is it was at times, once again it was invaluable learning experience for me. I just hope I don’t have to use anything I learned any more this year!