by Ty Mason

I know firsthand what a farmer goes through trying to raise goats in cow country. The U.S. is part of only 30% of the world that commonly consumes cattle products. The other 70% is dependent on goats. I have been raising dairy goats for several years and have found how difficult it is. In the first couple of years some of my goats died and I had no idea why. I had raised cattle all my life and I had never before seen such a horrible rate of animals lost. I talked to veterinarians, and many were quick to tell me they were more knowledgeable about cows and horses, but that goats die easily. I remember wishing someone would come along to teach me and other goat farmers more about them. I learned more and began to raise them more successfully as time went on, but I still wanted to know more.

On Aug. 21, Cold Hollow Veterinary Service of northern Vermont hosted a meeting for producers of sheep and goats. This workshop gave farmers of these livestock an opportunity to learn more about them, especially nutrition requirements and parasite control. The seminar’s presenters were Amy Bartholomew of Cold Hollow Veterinary Service and Dr. Robert Van Saun of Penn State Extension, Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences.

The first issue to be brought up was parasite control. The top particular issue Bartholomew touched on was overuse of deworming medications. Many of these medications are so overused that the parasites they are trying to kill develop a resistance, which causes what vets call a “super bug.” Farmers overuse them by unnecessarily deworming their whole herds periodically. This should only be done to animals that show symptoms, which are simple to check for when they occur. Management practices, space cleanliness and life cycles of stomach worms were discussed. It was pointed out that tapeworms are more commonly present in sheep than goats, coccidia happens most often in young animals which damages the intestinal lining and meningeal worms are present in deer and can only be transferred from deer to goats, but not from goats to deer. Bartholomew said to avoid wet, swampy areas for grazing (sheep) or browsing (goats). She also highlighted the fact that most farms with a continuous coccidia issue have a nutrition problem that might not be a lack of feed so much as quality of the feed.

A key to raising small ruminants and successfully managing for parasites is that well-fed animals and good nutrition are the best prevention. Free choice minerals are also a must. Van Saun prefers free choice minerals actually be force-fed to each animal to assure proper amounts are fed to each – so greedy animals don’t get too much, leaving less dominant animals with too little.

Clean indoor areas are important for health along with careful grazing management, with six to eight animals being the maximum number per acre on pasture. Goats are browsers, not grazers. Goats are genetically most used to eating what grows above the ground, not on top of it. Like deer, goats have always eaten tree leaves, buds, bark and weeds more than grass. One goat farmer worded it this way: “I have seen goats walk through a whole field of clover to get to a goldenrod.” At this seminar, it was emphasized that condensed tannins such as chicory reduce parasite loads.

There is a five point check for parasite symptoms: eyelid color, bottle jaw, nasal discharge, body condition (ribs showing is most obvious) and diarrhea. Parasite issues are best managed if this check is done every two weeks, with symptom-showing animals being treated immediately and animals continuously being treated getting culled.

The newest recommendation is to use dewormers in combination for best results. Talk to your vet to learn more. As a preventative (but not a cure for those animals already infested), you can feed pine brush to your animals. Pine bark has been proven in studies to cut worm loads back by 30%. Garlic juice, ginger, pumpkin seeds, black walnut hull extract and papaya seeds are also good preventatives, but they haven’t all been officially studied. I have found that goldenrod is a good natural feed for goats. I also know goats love the leaves, bark and needles of poplar and fir trees.

Also discussed were small ruminant lentiviruses such as caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) in goats and ovine progressive pneumonia (OPP) in sheep. Arthritis and mastitis are the major symptoms in CAE and weight loss and pneumonia in OPP. Both show decreased mobility and milk production. The virus is present in colostrum and semen.

CAE infects white blood cells and is found in joint fluid, which causes bulged knees. Arthritis form shows at six months or older. CAE-positive goats test twice the amount of somatic cell count, an important note for dairy producers. Vets do blood tests for CAE.

Preventing and eliminating CAE in a goat herd is an arduous task. First, blood test your animals at three months of age. New herds must be tested and separated from the rest of the animals. A minimum of six feet must be used to separate the herds with no shared water, feed troughs or even fence lines. For feeding kids, colostrum must be heat treated at 133° F and continuously stirred to kill off the CAE cells, but keep the beneficial bacteria for feeding. In a negative herd you must retest on a regular basis.

Van Saun spoke mostly about feeding and stressed the importance of the best possible nutrition. He started at the pregnancy of a doe or ewe by saying, “Fail in pregnancy, fail in lactation.” Iron, copper and selenium are deficient in milk, so a pregnant doe or ewe needs to be provided with that (with the exception that copper is toxic to sheep – do not provide sheep with copper in their feed). He stated that you feed the rumen to feed the bugs (enzymes) within the rumen to feed the animal itself. It comes down to lactose, fat and protein being important in the diet to feed the enzymes, while fiber makes milk.

One of the most important things he highlighted is that “we are not allowing goats to be the browsers they are.” Goats in the wild can find what they need. In confinement, we need to do the work of figuring out what they need and bring it to them.

Van Saun mentioned that only a rumen has the bugs that break down hay. The animal lives off the right bacteria. He stressed that feeding a dairy animal by feeding hay and then grain only at milk time is the worst way to feed a rumen. He gave a rundown of the essential nutrients in a feed program: water, energy (fats and protein), amino acids, minerals, vitamins and fiber. These substances are required in the diet to support body functions and production of the animal.

Put simply, the feed regimen needs to be more fiber, less grains. Examples of fiber are green pasture, soybean meal and alfalfa – all good rumen feeders.

Van Saun spoke about total mixed ration (TMR) feeding. According to Van Saun, TMR raises feed efficiency 8 – 12%. He also talked about urolithiasis or urinary calculi. This is a blockage caused by crystals in the urinary tract occurring in males and is a result of too much vitamin A and a high grain diet.

There was also a small discussion on iodine in the diet. It is hard to get; some is good, but not too much. Kelp will help raise iodine levels, but should be fed carefully as too much of it is bad. If one is to use copper wire boluses for their goats, no more than a two-gram bolus every six months is advised.

When I was having all my problems early on, I wished I had had the information from this seminar to solve problems in a type of livestock I had never raised before. Now I know more and feel more comfortable as I move forward. Van Saun and Bartholomew left us with further resources. They are and